Developing and Deploying Platforms for Real-World Impact: FlowIO Platform

Date:  3/30/23

Speaker:  Ali Shtarbanov

Location: Zoom

Time: 2:40 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Abstract: The fields of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Haptics, and Robotics are currently undergoing a paradigm shift from rigid materials toward more compliant, soft, and actuated materials, giving rise to areas often referred to as soft robotics or programmable materials. However, there is a significant lack of tools and development platforms in this field, which makes prototyping difficult and inaccessible to most creators. In this talk, I will present the FlowIO Platform and many of the projects it has enabled over the past two years. FlowIO is a fully integrated general-purpose solution for control, actuation, and sensing of soft programmable materials – enabling researchers, artists, and makers to unleash their creativity and to realize their ideas quickly and easily. It has been deployed in 12 countries and has enabled numerous art projects, research papers, and master theses around the world. I will also present a generalized framework of the essential technological and non technological characteristics that any development platform must offer – in order to be suitable for diverse users and to achieve mass adoption. I will address questions such as: What does it really take to create and deploy development platforms for achieving real-world impact? Why do we need platforms and how can they democratize emerging fields and accelerate innovation? Why are tools the enabler of progress, and how do they shape our world? Why do most platform attempts fail and only very few succeed in terms of impact and widespread adoption?

Bio: Ali Shtarbanov – a final year Ph.D. student at MIT Media Lab – has the mission to make prototyping and innovation in emerging fields more rapid and easily accessible for everyone…through the design and deployment of novel development platforms that are highly versatile, general purpose, and simple to use. Ali is a Bulgarian-American system designer, engineer, and HCI researcher best known as the inventor of the FlowIO Platform and the founder of the SoftRobotics.IO community ecosystem. His research areas include modular systems design, interactive interfaces, soft robotics, haptics, and community building. Ali’s works have been published at leading academic venues (CHI, UIST, SIGGRAPH, IROS, ASCEND) and have won multiple 1st place awards at some of the world’s largest design, engineering, and research competitions including Hackaday Grand Prize, TechBriefs Grand Prize, ACM Student Research Competition, Core77, IfDesign, FastCompany, and iDA.  Prior to his PhD studies, Ali earned bachelor degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University with highest honors and a Master’s Degree in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT Media Lab with focus on haptic feedback interfaces.