I am interested in the design, fabrication, and control of physically adaptive robots – those that can adapt their bodies and behaviors through control, functional materials, and self-organization for the dynamic changes in their environment.
I build upon my multi-disciplinary background to combine theories and practices from computer science, mechanical engineering, and physics in my research topics. I mainly benefit from inspirations from biology, functional soft materials, machine learning, and self-assembling systems in my robotics research. I target producing novel robotic applications for safe human-robot interaction in medicine, agriculture, and aerospace.
- Doctor of Science, ETH – Zürich – Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering, Switzerland (2012 – 2016)
- Master of Science, Bilkent University – Department of Computer Engineering, Turkey (2009 – 2012)
- Bachelor of Science, Bilkent University – Department of Computer Engineering, Turkey (2005 – 2009)
- (Co)author of 19 peer-reviewed publications: 10 journal articles, 2 book chapters, and 7 conference proceedings. See the full list here.
- Recipient of the Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2018-2020) and Max-Planck Society Fellowship (2020).
- Contributing author of multiple European research grants amounting to ∼ € 2.7M.
- Founder of a medical spin-off company (2009 – 2011) and holder of 1 national patent.
Short Bio – short text for talks, conferences, and publications.
Utku has received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bilkent University, Turkey from the Computer Engineering Department. He started his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in ETH-Zurich, Switzerland and then moved to the University of Cambridge, UK to help establish the Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory. After completing his Ph.D. in the design and control of physically adaptive soft robots, Utku joined the Physical Intelligence Department at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany. Combining fellowships from the Max Planck Society and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, he worked on the control of small scale soft robots, statistical machine learning on physical systems, and the control of self-assembling robotic elements. Utku joined the Munich Institute of Robotics and Machine Intelligence (MIRMI) of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) as the Chief of Science in April 2021. Here, Utku coordinates the joint research efforts of multiple departments and research laboratories on the human-centered robotics and machine intelligence for the future of work, health, mobility, and environment. Utku is also a principal investigator and leader in multiple national and internationally funded robotics research projects.
I was born in Istanbul, Turkey and raised in Ankara where I completed most of my education (from elementary to masters of science). Being raised in the ’80 and ’90s, my imagination was shaped by watching sci-fi movies involving a lot of robots and building the things I see with K’nex and Legos. Following the dream to work for Lucas Arts and develop games, I started studying Computer Engineering at Bilkent University. I quickly realized that robotics is a much more interesting path for me and started working with Prof. Uluc Saranli on rigid body dynamics in my 2nd year. During my undergraduate studies, I focused on embedded programming, electronics design, feedback control, physics modeling, and simulation. After graduation, I co-founded a spin-off company producing medical products and robotic arcade games. At the same time, I started my master’s program in Computer Engineering at Bilkent University and explored image analysis, pattern recognition, and machine learning. To expand my skills, I visited the NanoRobotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and worked on an amphibious robot design for 6 months. I joined Prof. Fumiya Iida‘s group at ETH – Zürich as a Ph.D. candidate at the Mechanical and Process Engineering. There, I was introduced to the new soft robotics field. Here, I learned materials physics, fast-prototyping methods, and bio-inspired robot designs. In 2014, we moved our research group to the University of Cambridge. There, we started experimenting with soft robotic manipulators in agricultural tasks. After receiving my doctoral degree, I joined the Physical Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany in November 2016. In 2018, I received the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Until April 2021, I worked with Prof. Metin Sitti on developing self-assembling soft robots and machine-learning methods to find unprecedented soft robotic functions and designs. In April 2021, I started as the chief of science at the Munich Institute of Robotics and Machine Intelligence of the Technical University of Munich. We are working with Prof. Sami Haddadin (acting director), 60+ professors who are the pioneers of their fields (see the full list here), and an amazing team of scientists on a wide range of fundamental and applied robotics topics.
I have always been interested in arts and music since childhood. I have been involved in many music bands as a guitarist and a vocal since high school and played a wide range of genres from heavy metal, folk to blues. I am still playing and singing whenever possible. I was lucky to have artsy parents and relatives that guided my art appreciation. I have been producing the technical and scientific illustrations in my research articles and now I am currently experimenting with geometrical designs in art and architecture. I really enjoy reading philosophy and history. I find everything related with deep-space exciting. I also practice nomadic archery. You can find more of these on my Personal page.
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Alumni
I am a proud Humboldtian and a lifelong member of the worldwide Humboldt Alumni Network consisting of more than 30000 scholars.
Technical University of Munich, Germany
Chief of Science – Senior Manager, Munich Institute of Robotics and Machine Intelligence (Apr 2021 – present)
Working on and coordinating the wide range of multi-disciplinary research on robotic control and teleoperation, human-robot interaction, rehabilitation robotics and prosthetics, neural interfaces, environmental robotics, and physics informed machine learning.
Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart, Germany
Senior Research Scientist, Physical Intelligence Department (Nov 2016 – Mar 2021)
Worked on the miniature scale, magnetically actuated soft robots. Designed the physical platforms that allow the programming of the self-assembly of soft robotic elements. Applied model-free machine-learning methods to explore novel robotic designs and functions.
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Research Assistant, Bio-inspired Robotics Laboratory (Dec 2014 – Mar 2016)
After establishing the research laboratory with Prof. Dr. Fumiya Iida, I developed anthropomorphic robotic fingers with rigid bones and soft ligaments, and soft strain sensors for complex somatosensory tactile feedback. Pioneered the robotic hand for lettuce-picking.
ETH – Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
Research Assistant, Bio-inspired Robotics Laboratory (Mar 2012 – Dec 2014)
Using soft thermoplastic materials, I developed a design algorithm for complex sensor morphologies, an active robotic sensing system with in situ fabrication of sensors, and an untethered mobile robot achieving free-space locomotion by fabricating spider-inspired draglines. I also developed a modular musculoskeletal robot toolkit with soft ligaments and tendon-driven actuation.
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Visiting Graduate Assistant, Nanorobotics Laboratory (Sep 2010 – Jan 2011)
Developed passive compliant foot structures and the locomotion gait control for the novel, gecko-inspired amphibious running robot.
Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey
Graduate Research Assistant, Dexterous Robotics and Locomotion Group (Sep 2009 – Jan 2012)
Developed a cheetah-inspired quadruped robot with an actuated spinal joint to increase the bounding gait performance.