Dr Nathan Lepora, PI Tactile Robotics Group


I am a Reader (Associate Professor) in Engineering Maths at the University of Bristol and Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

I lead and am a Principal Investigator for the Tactile Robotics research group at Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

The Tactile Robotics research group is currently supported by a major (£1M) award from the Leverhulme Trust on a `Biomimetic Brain for Robot Touch'.

The research in our group spans robotics, neuroscience and biomimetics. We design and build novel 3D-printed dexterous tactile robotic hands and sensors. We develop artificial intelligence that enables tactile robots to perceive, explore and manipulate their environment. We take inspiration from and link these developments to the computational neuroscience and psychology of human and animal perception and action.


My University of Bristol staff webpages
Tactile Robotics Research webpages at Bristol Robotics Laboratory
Tactile Robotics Twitter Feed


May 2019: (conference) I'm co-organizing a workshop at ICRA 2019 (main organizer Shan Luo) on ViTac: Integrating Vision and Touch for Multimodal and Cross-modal Perception. Come and see us on Friday May 24th.

May 2019: (new papers) Our group has three papers accepted in ICRA, two also in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters: From pixels to percepts: Highly robust perception and exploration using deep learning and an optical biomimetic tactile sensor, A Sense of Touch for the Shadow Modular Grasper and Continuous contact sensing with a soft biomimetic tactile sensor.

April 2019: (announcement) Well done Kirsty Aquilina on winning best paper/presentation award at the UK Manipulation workshop.

Nov 2019: (new PhD student) Welcome to Noor Alakhawand, who has joined our group to work on tactile robotics and haptics.

Nov 2019: (announcement) Well done Ben Ward-Cherrier on being awarded a Vice Chancellor's Research Fellowship.

Oct 2018: (new PhD students) Welcome to Pernilla Craig and Alex Church, who have jointed our group to work on Computational Neuroscience and Robotics.

Oct 2018: (conference) Our group has two papers accepted in IROS, one also in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters: Slip detection with a biomimetic tactile sensor and TacWhiskers: Biomimetic optical tactile whiskered robots.

May 2018: (conference) I'm running a workshop at ICRA 2018 on Active touch for perception and interaction: How nature inspires robotics. Come and see us on Friday May 25th.

May 2018: (conference) Our group has three papers accepted in ICRA, one also in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters: Principle components of touch, Voronoi Features for Tactile Sensing: Direct Inference of Pressure, Shear, and Contact Locations and Dual-modal tactile perception and exploration.

April 2018: (book) Our Handbook of Living Machines is finally published by Oxford Univ Press.

April 2018: (new postdocs) Welcome to Dr Thom Griffiths and Ben Ward-Cherrier, who are our two new hires for our Leverhulme award - Thom is an expert in Computational Neuroscience and Ben in Tactile Robotics.

January 2018: (new paper) Ben's invited paper on The TacTip Family: Soft Optical Tactile Sensors with 3D-Printed Biomimetic Morphologies is now published in Soft Robotics. An editorial will follow relating to our win of the Soft Robotics Toolit competition.

January 2018: (book) My children's book Robots is out on Amazon (published by Dorling-Kindersley as part of their Findout! series)

October 2017: (new PhD students) Welcome to Sophie-Anne Baker and Jasper James, who have joined our group to work on computational neuroscience and robotics.

June 2017: (competition) Our team came 3rd in the ICRA 2017 Soft Material Robot Challenge, from about 20 teams. Well done Ben!

May 2017: (conferences) Ben Ward-Cherrier and I are off to ICRA - Ben is presenting at the Robotic sense of touch workshop and I am presenting at the Innovative Haptic Interfaces workshop, and we're both presenting at the main conference.

April 2017: (new RA) We have just made the first hire for our Leverhulme Award - Dr John Lloyd, an expert in artificial intelligence applied to robot touch.

Mar 2017: (press) Two excellent stories that covered some of our research were covered in Digital Trends and The Register.

Feb 2017: We have an exhibit of a 3d-printed tactile robot hand and tactile sensor (photo) at the ROBOTS exhibition in the Science Museum, London.

Jan 2017 (press): Harvard and University of Bristol have both made press releases on our win of the Soft Robotics Competition. The story was taken up at several news sites, including The Engineer, 3D printing news, phys.org, ACM Technews and optics.org.

Jan 2017 (new papers): Our group has three papers accepted in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters from from the recent ICRA-RAL call: Exploratory tactile servoing with active touch, Exploiting sensor symmetry for generalized tactile perception in biomimetic touch and A biomimetic fingerprint improves spatial tactile perception.

Dec 2016 (funding): I have been awarded a Leverhulme Leadership Award (£1M) on 'A biomimetic forebrain for robot touch'. The award represents a major investment in Tactile Robotics research, funding four RAs, a technician and equipment.

Nov 2016 (announcement): The Bristol Tactile Robotics Team has won the international Harvard 2016 Soft Robotics competition for its contribution to soft robotics research, from over 80 teams. The competition entry was for an open-source 3d-printed tactile sensor: the open TacTip.

Oct 2016 (announcement): We have 6 Scholarships of £5k available for International Students on the MSc in Robotics for 2016.

Oct 2016 (new PhD student): Kirsty Aquilina has chosen to do her CDT PhD in Tactile Robotics and Control with David Barton and I.

Oct 2016 (new PhD student): Emma Roscow has chosen to do her Welcome Neural Dynamics PhD on 'Pon(dering) the Replay: modelling reward-based replay strategies for replay coordinated across hippocampus and nucleus accumbens' with Matt Jones and I.

Sep 2016 (announcement): Welcome to the 38 new students on the MSc in Robotics this year.

Aug 2016 My paper Biomimetic Active Touch with Whiskers and Fingertips is #1 ranked by popularity in IEEE Transactions on Haptics at the moment.

Aug 2016 (funding): I have been awarded (with Maria Elena Giannaccini and Ben Ward-Cherrier) EPSRC impact acceleration funds for our work on tactile sensing (£20k).

Aug 2016 (new paper): I have have a paper accepted in Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) on Threshold Learning for Optimal Decision Making.

Aug 2016 I'm helping organize a special issue of the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics based on papers from Living Machines 2016.

May 2016 (new papers): My paper on Biomimetic Active Touch with Whiskers and Fingertips has been published in IEEE Transactions on Haptics, in the Special Issue on Active Touch that I was a co-editor.

May 2016 (new papers): Luke Cramphorn and I both presented papers at ICRA on Tactile manipulation and Tactile quality control. Ben Ward-Cherrier gave invited presentations on his paper in IEEE Robotics Automation Letters in two workshops.

May 2016 (funding): Maria Elena Giannaccini has been awarded an equipment pump priming grant (£3k); Ben Ward-Cherrier has been awarded funds to attend ICRA.

Jan 2016 (new RA): Maria Elena Giannaccini has started an RA post with me on my EPSRC First Grant on Tactile Superresolution Sensing.

Jan 2016 (new papers): Ben Ward-Cherrier and I have have two papers in the first issue of IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters on Tactile manipulation with a TacThumb integrated on the Open-Hand M2 Gripper and Tactile quality control with biomimetic active touch.

Dec 2015 (funding): I have been awarded (with A. Richards) a University of Bristol Capital Bid (£22k) to buy robotic equipment (an arm and F/T sensor) for the MSc and CDT in Robotics.

Dec 2015 (new PhD student): To complement my EPSRC First Grant, the Engineering Faculty has assigned me a DTP PhD Scholarship, which I have awarded to Nick Pestell.

Nov 2015: I'm serving as Program Chair for Living Machines 2016 (18-22 July, Edinburgh).

Nov 2015 (funding): I have been awarded an EPSRC First Grant on 'Tactile superresolution', with funding (£100k) for a postdoc for just over a year.

Oct 2015 (new PhD student): Luke Cramphorn has chosen to do his CDT PhD with me in Tactile Robotics.

Oct 2015 (new PhD student): Fliss Inkpen has chosen to do her Welcome Neural Dynamics PhD on 'Modelling ion channel expression in developing neurons' with Mike Ashby and I.

Oct 2015 (announcement): We have 6 Scholarships of £5k available for UK and International Students on the MSc in Robotics for 2016.

Sep 2015 (announcement): Welcome to the 23 new students on the MSc in Robotics this year.

July 2015 (new paper): I have a paper in IEEE Transactions on Robotics on 'Tactile superresolution and biomimetic hyperacuity'.

Mar 2015: I have contributed an article to Scholarpedia on 'Active tactile perception'.

Jan 2015 (new paper): Giovanni Pezzulo and I have a paper in PLoS Computational Biology on 'Embodied choice: How action influences perceptual decision making'.

Nov 2014 (funding): I have been awarded a University of Bristol Pump Priming award (£5k) on Tactile Superresolution.

Oct 2014: I have been invited to serve as guest editor for a special issue on active touch in IEEE Transactions on Haptics.

Sep 2014 (new PhD student): Ben Ward-Cherrier been awarded a DTP PhD Scholarship to study Tactile Robotics.

Sep 2014 (announcement): Welcome to the 24 new students on the MSc in Robotics this year.

Jan 2014: My paper 'State-of-the-art in biomimetics' in Biomimetic and Bioinspiration was the most highly read paper in that journal last year, with more than 10000 reads.

Jan 2014 (announcement): I am beginning my job as Program Director for 9 students on the MSc in Robotics.

Jan 2014: I have taken up a Lectureship in the Dept of Engineering Maths at the University of Bristol, affiliated with Bristol Robotics Laboratory.