Michael Tolley

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Associate Professor

Research Focus
Bioinspired and soft robotic systems, printable and origami-inspired robotics, self-assembly and self-folding, microfabrication, microassembly, microfluidics, simulation and assembly planning.

Research Summary

Tolley’s research focuses on approaches to the design and fabrication of bioinspired robotic systems which have some of the beneficial properties of natural systems (e.g. resilience, self-organization, self-healing). He has developed origami-inspired print-and-fold methods for the fabrication of electromechanical machines, such as robotic crawlers and grippers. To enable automated manufacturing and deployment, he developed methods for robotic self-assembly by folding. In work that appeared in the journal Science, Tolley and his co-authors demonstrated a robot that is fabricated as a flat sheet with embedded electronics, and folds itself into a functional machine that can begin operation autonomously. Tolley is also interested in soft robotics inspired by invertebrates such as cephalopods and has developed untethered soft robots with integrated power and control systems that can walk or even jump without rigid structural components. He also has worked on fluidic assembly for programmable matter, a substance that can be programmed to change its physical properties. Enabled by fluidic assembly, programmable matter would assemble on demand from microscale components in a fluidic environment similar to biological structures. These bioinspired approaches to advanced manufacturing and robotic design aim to open up new possibilities for rapid prototyping, space exploration, sustainable technology, and medical devices.

Michael Tolley
Lab Website


Before joining the mechanical engineering faculty at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, Tolley was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, working in the Harvard Microbotics Laboratory from 2011 to fall 2014. He earned his Ph.D. and master’s in the Creative Machines Lab (formerly Computational Synthesis Lab) at Cornell University. He has a bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal.