Robert Full

Research Expertise and Interest

energetics, comparative biomechanics, arthropod, adhesion, comparative physiology, locomotion, neuromechanics, biomimicry, biological inspiration, reptile, gecko, amphibian, robots, artificial muscles

Research Description

Robert Full's primary interests reside in the area of comparative biomechanics and physiology. His research program quantifies whole animal performance in general and locomotion in particular as it relates to an animal's structure, physiology, and behavior. His research group uses biomechanical, computer simulation (dynamic musculo-skeletal modeling), physical modeling (robot and artificial muscle construction), isolated muscle, biochemical, whole-animal exercise physiology and field-tracking techniques to seek general design principles for species which have evolved different solutions to the problems of locomotion and activity in general. The study of arthropod, amphibian and reptilian locomotion continues to offer an excellent opportunity for comparison. Animals such as crabs, cockroaches, ants, beetles, scorpions, centipedes, geckos and salamanders show tremendous variation in body shape, gas transport system, leg number, musculoskeletal arrangement and mode of movement.

Diversity enables discovery. They use these "novel" biological designs as natural experiments to probe for basic themes concerning the relationship between morphology, body size, energetics, dynamics, control, stability, maneuverability, maximum speed and endurance. An understanding of the diverse biological solutions to the problems of locomotion contributes to the development of a general theory of energetics, neuro-mechanics and behavior. They collaborate closely with engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists by providing biological principles to inspire the design of multi-legged robots, artificial limbs and muscles, novel control algorithms, and self-cleaning, dry adhesives.

In the News

Berkeley Talks: Learning From Nature to Design Better Robots

In Berkeley Talks episode 148, Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology and founder of the Center for Interdisciplinary Biological Inspiration in Education and Research at UC Berkeley, discusses how nature and its creatures — cockroaches, crabs, centipedes, geckos — inspire innovative design in all sorts of useful things, from bomb-detecting, stair-climbing robots to prosthetics and other medical equipment.

Leaping squirrels! Parkour is one of their many feats of agility

Videos of squirrels leaping from bendy branches across impossibly large gaps, parkouring off walls, scrambling to recover from tricky landings are not just more YouTube content documenting the antics of squirrels. Researchers at UC Berkeley are capturing video of squirrels as part of their research to understand the split-second decisions squirrels make to elude deadly predators, research that could help with development of robots with better agility and control.

Acrobatic geckos can even race on water’s surface

Geckos are renowned for their acrobatic feats on land and in the air, but a new discovery that they can also run on water puts them in the superhero category, says a University of California, Berkeley, biologist.

Stealth behavior allows cockroaches to seemingly vanish

Cockroaches, known for their stealth behavior, have a strategy up their sleeve only recently discovered by UC Berkeley biologists. They are able to quickly disappear under ledges by flinging themselves off at full speed, grabbing the edge with hook-like claws on their hind legs, and swinging like a pendulum to land upside-down underneath.

Leaping lizards and dinosaurs inspire robot design

Undergraduate and graduate students teamed up with biologist Robert Full to study how lizards use their tails when leaping. What they found can help design robots that are more stable on uneven terrain and after unexpected falls, which is critical to successful search and rescue operations.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
August 6, 2021
Tess Joosse
Outside the stadiums of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, a different kind of acrobatic feat is performed every day. Both closer to the Olympics, in the forests of Japan, and in treetops all around the world, squirrels leap meters through the air to get from branch to branch. The stakes are different in this natural arena: the squirrels scurry around to find morsels of food, all the while trying to evade occasional airborne predators such as hawks. But the speed and ease with which they navigate the challenging and unpredictable canopy environment is "spectacular," says University of California, Berkeley, biomechanics researcher Robert Full. The animals easily land leaps several times the length of their body. And we do not really know how they do it, Full says. "How do they know that they have the capability in their body to achieve those jumps?" he asks. The well-executed moves could influence the design of smarter robots, incorporating some of the squirrels' best physical traits: their flexible spine, grippy paws and grabby claws. For more on this see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in numerous media outlets.
December 7, 2018
Charles Q. Choi, Inside Science

Geckos use four separate strategies to skitter over water, and a new study from the lab of integrative biology professor Robert Full details the mechanics involved. Describing the phenomenal acrobatic skills of flat-tailed Asian house geckos, Professor Full says: "They can run up a wall at a meter per second, they can glide, they can right themselves in midair with a twist of their tail and rapidly invert under a leaf running at full speed. And now they can run at a meter per second over water. Nothing else can do that; geckos are superheroes." Jasmine Nirody and Judy Jinn, who worked on the project as doctoral students, discovered that the geckos accomplish the feat by harnessing surface tension; slapping and paddling the water to create air pockets that help keep them afloat; using their smooth, water-repellent skin to plane; and swishing their tail as an alligator does, which not only propels them, but lifts and stabilizes them as well. "All are important to some extent, and geckos are unique in combining all these," Professor Full says. Link to video. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. The Scientist featured this news as their "Image of the Day". Other stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources, including UPI, Nature, Popular Science, Inside Science, Tech Times, Geek, and the PBS Newshour YouTube channel--link to video.

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