Leverhulme Leadership Award: A biomimetic forebrain for robot touch

The Tactile Robotics group has been successful in being awarded a major £1M grant for a 5-year project that will apply leading robotics, artificial intelligence, neuroscience and psychology to develop a biomimetic forebrain embodied on a 3D-printed tactile robot hand to enable human-like tactile dexterity. The University of Bristol is making a similar contribution, underwriting the overheads and PI salary costs, overall comprising a very significant investment in tactile robotics of over £2M.

The investment will enable expansion of the research laboratory in Tactile Robotics situated at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, comprising multiple robot arms and fabrication facilities for 3d-printed tactile robot hands and sensors, with 4 postdoctoral researchers and a technician, who will work alongside the PI, collaborators and research students in the laboratory.

Project aims

The ambition of this project is to create a biomimetic forebrain based on computer modelling of the mammalian neural system that implements active touch in animals, and use this to perform general tactile perception, exploration and manipulation tasks in robots. In doing so, we aim to build tactile robots that can perceive and interact with their surroundings with the dexterity and robustness of human touch. The development of a biomimetic forebrain with these functional capabilities will give new insight into human/animal embodied intelligence, of broad relevance to science and the public interest.

The project has four main objectives:

  1. To implement and test biomimetic algorithms for active touch with tactile fingertips and tactile robot hands, aiming to perform general tactile performance with near-human dexterity
  2. To construct a systems-level model of the mammalian forebrain that captures the mechanisms underlying active touch in animals, building upon established neuroscience models that have the capability to achieve tasks in tactile robotics
  3. To compare human and robot touch, and also interpret active touch capabilities in terms of modern views of sensorimotor theory and embodied cognition.
  4. To build state-of-the-art tactile robots using multi-material 3D printing to make tactile fingertips and skin that we will integrate with leading 3D-printed robot hands.

Project team


  1. B. Ward-Cherrier, N. Pestell, L. Cramphorn, B. Winstone, M. Giannaccini, J. Rossiter, N. Lepora<. The TacTip Family: Soft Optical Tactile Sensors with 3D-Printed Biomimetic Morphologies. Soft Robotics, 2017. (preprint, paper)
  2. N. Pestell, J. Lloyd, J. Rossiter, N. Lepora. Dual-Modal Tactile Perception and Exploration. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 2018. Also accepted in: Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2019.
  3. L. Cramphorn, J. Lloyd, N. Lepora. Voronoi Features for Tactile Sensing: Direct Inference of Pressure, Shear, and Contact Locations. Accepted: Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2018.
  4. K. Aquilina, D. Barton, N. Lepora. Principle Components of Touch. Accepted: Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2018.
  5. N. Lepora, K. Aquilina, L. Cramphorn. Exploratory tactile servoing with active touch. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters 3, 2017. Also published in: Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2017. (preprint, paper, data, video)
  6. B. Ward-Cherrier, N. Rojas, N. Lepora. Model-free precise in-hand manipulation with a 3d-printed tactile gripper. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (submitted), 2017.
  7. L. Cramphorn, B. Ward-Cherrier, N. Lepora. A biomimetic fingerprint improves spatial tactile perception. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters 3, 2017. (preprint, paper, data)


Interested in joining our team? Drop us an email...