Norwich University of the Arts academic in innovative collaboration to build ‘soft’ robots

A senior lecturer in textile design at Norwich University of the Arts is collaborating with the Crafts Council to build biologically-inspired robots.

The project titled squeeze fold bend and expand – Structural Memory in Deformable Objects is part of the ‘Parallel Practices’ innovation programme, which was developed by the Crafts Council in partnership with the Cultural Institute at King’s College London and launched by Ed Vaizey MP to stimulate learning and innovation by matching medical and scientific academics with creative practitioners.

Les Bicknell, who combines lecturing at NUA with his practice in book making, will work with Thrishantha Nanayakkara, principal investigator of the Laboratory for Morphological Computation and Learning, and jeweller Naomi Mcintosh to explore extending current soft robotics through model-making and look at ways of controlling movement and articulation of objects in order to build new structures.

Les says: “This is an exciting collaborative project that celebrates creativity alongside the role of the artist in society. Repositioning my art practice within a scientific context extends what I do in my studio through exposure to alternative ways of working, which in turn enables me to explore and reflect on my own work from new perspectives.”

A total of four projects will take place until the end of 2014, with other projects aiming to explore the relationships between textile repair and mending in anatomy; making use of clay to mimic physical processes and transformations; and investigating the value of stitch to cutting-edge robotics.

Annie Warburton, Creative Programmes Director at the Crafts Council said: “When culture and science collide it’s to creative effect for both. Collaboration sparks scientific insights and artistic breakthroughs. The Crafts Council is thrilled to partner with the Cultural Institute at King’s on Parallel Practices. Bringing together fields as diverse as ceramics and neuroscience, textiles and robotics, these pairings of makers with medical and scientific researchers are exemplary of how we’re stimulating new work through the Crafts Council innovation programme.”

A blog about the progress of the project can be viewed online at