Foto von Utku Culha

Dr. Utku Culha

Technische Universität München

Munich Institute of Robotics and Machine Intelligence (MIRMI)


Heßstr. 134
80797 München

Work experience

Senior Research Scientist (Nov 2016 - Mar 2021)
Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems
- Physical Intelligence Department, Stuttgart, Germany

  • ˆ Lead a team of 9 researchers on the design and control of soft robots and applications of machine learning methods.
  • ˆ Developed magnetic, miniature bioinspired soft robots with adaptive locomotion, sensing, and manipulation capabilities.
  • ˆ Applyied statistical and reinforcement machine learning methods to optimize and explore soft robot designs and controllers.
  • ˆ Building programmable collective robotic systems for adaptive manipulation, locomotion, and cargo-transfer tasks.
  • ˆ Recipient of the Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellowship on self-assembling medical soft robots (2018-2020).
  • ˆ Supervising 5 PhD candidates on projects related to the design, modeling, fabrication, and control of soft robots.
  • ˆ Contributing author of three (ERC, DFG, and Grassroots Initiative) European research grants amounting to €2.7M.
  • ˆ Evaluated the candidate applications to the international PhD programs and schools of the Max Planck Institute.

Visiting Research Assistant (Dec 2014 - Mar 2016)
University of Cambridge - Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory, Cambridge, UK

  • ˆ Designed bio-mimetic robotic manipulators and applied to lettuce-picking tasks of the Sainsbury's Supermarket Ltd.
  • ˆ Used articial neural networks to learn the grasping control of robotic ngers by imitating human hand gestures.
  • ˆ Received the Runner-up award from Harvard University for developing a modular soft robotics actuation system.
  • ˆ Supervised 1 Master's thesis on the design of anthropomorphic robotic manipulators for handling objects using chopsticks

Research Assistant (Apr 2012 - Mar 2016)
ETH - Zürich - Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, Zürich, Switzerland

  • ˆ Built a robotic manipulator that fabricates soft sensors and actively uses them to sense dierent object properties.
  • ˆ Designed a mobile robot moving in free-space by fabricating spider-inspired draglines using thermoplastics.
  • ˆ Developed a design algorithm for generating custom sensor morphologies to sense complex soft surface deformations.
  • ˆ Developed a simulator platform for designing optimized multi-segmented tendon routing for actuating continuum robots.
  • ˆ Developed a modular musculoskeletal robot toolkit with soft ligaments and tendon driven actuation.
  • ˆ Supervised 2 Master's theses on using functional thermoplastic materials for robotic sensing and locomotion.

Visiting Graduate Assistant (Sept 2010 - Jan 2011)
Carnegie Mellon University - NanoRobotics Laboratory, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

  • Built a gecko-inspired amphibious running robot with compliant feet and developed its gait locomotion control

Graduate Assistant (Sep 2009 - Jan 2012)
Bilkent University - Dexterous Robotics and Locomotion Group, Ankara, Turkey

  • ˆ Developed a rigid-body dynamics simulation of a cheetah-inspired robot with an actuated spinal joint to increase the bounding locomotion performance.


Doctor of Science, Mechanical and Process Engineering
ETH - Zürich, Switzerland (2012 - 2016)

Dissertation: Inhomogeneous deformations of thermoplastic materials for physically adaptive soft matter robots.

Master of Science, Computer Engineering
Bilkent University, Turkey (2009 - 2012)

Thesis: Articulated back spine architecture for locomotion in quadruped robots.

Bachelor of Science, Computer Engineering
Bilkent University, Turkey (2005 - 2009)

Additional Skills


  • ˆ European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Mar 2019)

Contributing author of the robot control and machine learning sections of the Advanced European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant titled SoMMoR, granted to Prof. Metin Sitti, amounting to €2.5M, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart, Germany.

  • ˆ German Research Foundation (DFG) Priority Program (Mar 2019)

Contributing author of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - DFG) Grant titled Design Methodology for Soft-Bodied Miniature Robot Locomotion, granted to Prof. Metin Sitti, amounting to €227000, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart, Germany.

  • ˆ Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Grant (Feb 2018)

Recipient of the two-year long postdoctoral research fellowship amounting to €80000 granted to own research proposal on self-assembling medical soft micro-robots, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany.

  • ˆ Max-Planck Institute Grassroots Initiative Grant (Jan 2018)

Grant funding amounting to €20000 for the proposed project: Applying machine learning methods on self-assembling miniature soft robots (in collaboration with Dr. Sebastian Trimpe, Intelligent Control Systems), Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart, Germany.

Scholarships and Awards

  • ˆ Postdoctoral Research Fellowship - Max Planck Society (2016 and 2020)
  • ˆ Most Inuential Research Highlight - IOP Science, IOP Publishing (Feb 2017)
  • ˆ Best Technical Paper - 14th Conf. on Simul. of Adaptive Behavior, Aberystwyth, UK. (Aug 2016)
  • ˆ Runner-Up Award - Soft Robotics Toolkit Competition, Harvard University, USA. (Aug 2015)
  • ˆ Travel Grant - IEEE/RSJ Int. Conf. on Intelligent Robots and Systems 2014, Chicago, USA. (Sep 2014)
  • ˆ Research Scholarship - Graduate School of Engineering and Science, Bilkent University, Turkey. (2009 - 2012)
  • ˆ Honor Degree - Faculty of Engineering, Bilkent University, Turkey. (2006 - 2007)
  • ˆ High Honor Degree - Faculty of Engineering, Bilkent University, Turkey. (2005 - 2006)

Invited Talks (selected)

  • ˆ School of Engineering Mathematics, University of Bristol, UK. (Jan 2021)
  • ˆ Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA. (Dec 2020)
  • ˆ Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland. (Jul 2020)
  • ˆ Digital Futures Seminars, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. (Jul 2020)
  • ˆ The Cluster Science of Intelligence (SCIoI), Berlin, Germany. (Jun 2020)
  • ˆ The Night of Ideas, German Federal Foreign Oce's Department for Cultural Relations, Germany. (Jun 2020)

Academic Service

  • ˆWorkshop organization
    • International Workshop on Embodied Intelligence (March 24-26 2021)
      Co-chaired the session on Beyond Bioinspired Robotics and Control during the workshop.
    • Soft Robotics Week 2015 (April 13-17 2015)
      Contributing organizer of the international workshop in collaboration with the European Research Consortiums: RoboSoft and SMART-E in Livorno, Italy.
    • 2013 International Workshop on Soft Robotics and Morphological Computation (July 14-19 2013)
      Organizer of the international workshop together with the Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory of ETH-Zürich in Centro Stefano Franscini (CSF), Monte Verità, Ascona, Switzerland.
  • Editorial and peer-revision
    • Associate Editor - IEEE RAS/EMBS Int. Conf. on Biomed. Robotics and Biomech. (BioRob). (2020)
    • Journals - E.g., Nature, Sci. Adv., Phys. Rev. Lett., Int. J. of Robot. Res., IEEE Trans. (Robot. 2013 - present)
    • Conferences - E.g., IEEE ICRA, IEEE RoboSoft, IEEE/RSJ IROS (2013 - present)
  • ˆ Society membership
    • Materials Research Society (MRS). (2019 - present)
    • IEEE, IEEE Young Professionals, and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. (2008 - present)

Selected Publications

Journal Papers

J8. S.O. Demir, U. Culha, A.C. Karacakol, A. Pena-Francesch, S. Trimpe, and M. Sitti, "Task space adaptation via the learning of gait controllers of magnetic soft millirobots", International Journal of Robotics Research, in press, 2021.
J7. U. Culha, Z.S. Davidson, M. Mastrangeli, and M. Sitti, "Statistical reprogramming of macroscopic self-assembly with dynamic boundaries", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 117, no. 21, pp. 11306-11313, 2020.
J6. J. Hughes, U. Culha, F. Giardina, F. Guenther, A. Rosendo and F. Iida, "Soft manipulators and grippers: a review", Frontiers in Robotics and AI, vol. 3, p. 69, 2016.
J5. U. Culha and F. Iida, Enhancement of finger motion range with compliant anthropomorphic joint design, Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, vol. 11, no. 2, p. 026001, 2016.
J4. U. Culha, S. G. Nurzaman, F. Clemens and F. Iida, "SVAS3: Strain vector aided sensorization of soft structures", Sensors, vol. 14, no. 7, pp. 12748-12770, 2014.
J3. L. Wang, U. Culha and F. Iida, "A dragline-forming mobile robot inspired by spiders", Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, vol. 9, no. 1, p. 016006, 2014.
J2. X. Yu, S. G. Nurzaman, U. Culha and F. Iida, "Soft robotics education", Soft Robotics, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 202-212, 2014.
J1. S. G. Nurzaman, U. Culha, L. Brodbeck, L. Wang, and F. Iida, "Active sensing system with in situ adjustable sensor morphology", PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 12, p. e84090, 2013.

Peer-Reviewed Conference Proceedings

C7. U. Culha, S.O. Demir, S. Trimpe, and M. Sitti, "Learning of sub-optimal gait controllers for magnetic walking soft millirobots", in Proc. of Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS), Corvalis, Oregon, USA, 2020.
C6. M. Chepisheva, U. Culha and F. Iida, "A Biologically inspired soft robotic hand using chopsticks for grasping tasks", in 14th Int. Conf. on Simulation of Adaptive Behaviour (SAB), pp. 195-206, 2016. (Best Technical Paper Award).
C5. U. Culha, U. Wani, S. G. Nurzaman, F. Clemens and F. Iida, "Motion pattern discrimination for soft robots with morphologically exible sensors", in Proc. of the IEEE/RSJ Int. Conf. on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), pp. 567-572, Chicago, USA, 2014.
C4. L. Wang, C. Peruzzi, U. Culha, M. Jovic and F. Iida, "Modelling of continuous dragline formation in a mobile robot", in Proc. of the IEEE Int. Conf. on Robot. (ICRA), pp. 4229-4234, Hong Kong, China, 2014.
C3. L. Wang, U. Culha and F. Iida, "Free-space locomotion with thread formation", in Proc. of the IEEE/RSJ Int. Conf. on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), pp. 4046-4051, Tokyo Big Sight, Japan, 2013.
C2. H.G. Marques, C. Maufroy, A. Lenz, K. Dalamagkidis and U. Culha, "MYOROBOTICS: A modular toolkit for legged locomotion research using musculoskeletal designs", in Proc. of the 6th Int. Symp. on Adaptive Motion of Animals and Machines (AMAM), Darmstadt, Germany, 2013.
C1. U. Culha and U. Saranli, "Quadrupedal bounding with an actuated spinal joint", in Proc. of the IEEE Int. Conf. on Robot. (ICRA), pp. 1392-1397, Shanghai, China, 2011. (Link)

Book Chapters

B2. U. Culha, J. Hughes, A. Rosendo, F. Giardina and F. Iida, "Design Principles for Soft-Rigid Hybrid Manipulators", In Soft Robotics: Trends, Applications and Challenges, Springer, pp. 87-94, 2016.
B1. F. Iida, L. Wang, L. Brodbeck, D. Leach, S. G. Nurzaman, and U. Culha, "The Solving by Building Approach Based on Thermoplastic Adhesives", In Robotics Research, Springer, pp. 221-236, 2016.

Conference Abstracts

CA2. U. Culha, Z.S. Davidson, M. Mastrangeli, and M. Sitti, "Reprogrammable granular self-assembly", in Gordon Research Seminar and Conference (GRS/GRC) on Soft Condensed Matter Physics, New London, NH, USA, 2019.
CA1. U. Culha, Z.S. Davidson, M. Mastrangeli, and M. Sitti, "Reprogramming granular self-assembly with the control of dynamic boundaries", in Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting, Boston, MA, USA, 2019.