During his academic and entrepreneurial career, Sridhar Kota has focused on bridging the gap between theory and practice in engineering research and education.
Drawing on lessons from designs in nature in the early 90s, he developed a new paradigm in engineering design through his pioneering research on distributed compliance to design monolithic mechanical systems, or compliant mechanisms, that generate sophisticated motions without joints, and enable shape-morphing on demand by exploiting the inherent elasticity of materials.
This new paradigm in engineering design eliminates joints, wear, friction while enabling product design with minimal or no-assembly (aka Design for No-Assembly), ease of manufacture, excellent reliability and sub-micron precision. Scientific American dubbed Kota’s pioneering work in May 2014 article as Flexible Bio-inspired Machines are the Future of Engineering.
Motivated originally by the need to create mechanical motions at microscale (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) without requiring assembly, the complaint design approach has enabled design and manufacture of high performance large stroke MEMS actuators (1995-98 Sandia National Labs) and 3D-MEMS for optical and bioengineering applications developed in collaboration with MEMX Inc. (1998-2002), a spin-off from Sandia National Labs.
These innovations greatly expanded the range of machine designs possible at micro-scale.
By combining principles of kinematics and continuum mechanics, Kota and his graduate students at the Compliant Systems Design Lab (12 PhD dissertations on this topic alone) developed
- metrics for capturing the essence of a distributed compliance design through strain energy formulations,
- mathematical models and computational tools for systematic design compliant mechanisms including topological synthesis, size/shape/geometry optimization, and
- design of nonlinear springs, designing for dynamic performance, and design of multi-stable mechanisms.
In addition to developing the mathematical foundation for synthesis of distributed compliant systems, Kota applied the complaint design principles to several product designs at micro, meso and macro scales.
The unique ability of Kota’s invention to change structural shapes on demand (as in aircraft wing) has applications to helicopter rotor blades (increased speed, payload), wind turbines blades (13% more energy capture per Sandia’s analysis), automobiles, submarines, and any object moving through a fluid medium.
The engineering design principles underlying compliant design were developed by drawing parallels from the designs in nature. Inspiration from locomotion of soft-bodied animals led to discovery of novel fiber-reinforced elasto-fluidic actuators.
Kota’s lab discovered novel fiber orientations of elasto-fluidic actuators that produce a wide range of kinematic motions (rotation, screw, helical motions in addition to extend/contract) which serve a basic building blocks for synthesizing Soft Robots.
Research in Compliant Design is now being carried out at several universities in the U.S and abroad and has led to new conferences sessions and workshops by professional societies and federal agencies.