SUBJECT: Ph.D. Dissertation Defense
BY: Kyle Motter
TIME: Tuesday, October 22, 2019, 3:00 p.m.
PLACE: MRDC Building, 3515
TITLE: Transporting Fabric: Decentralized Multi-Agent Control Through a Distributed Active Environment
COMMITTEE: Dr. Wayne Book, Chair (Mechanical Engineering)
Dr. Sundaresan Jayaraman (Materials Science and Engineering)
Dr. Ling Liu (Computer Science)
Dr. Anirban Mazumdar (Mechanical Engineering)
Dr. Tucker Balch (Interactive Computing)


The garment manufacturing industry has largely not benefited from the rapid advances in robotics and automation due to the inherent difficulty in handling flexible materials. At present the vast majority of sewing operations and material handling is still performed by humans in low-wage conditions. However, the industry is undergoing a paradigm shift toward custom and on demand manufacturing, increasing the need for automated handling of cut fabric. This thesis presents a comprehensive system based on novel distributed actuators, called budgers, for fabric manipulation and control. Using these distributed actuators as a foundation, this thesis explores a system architecture to provide practical, factory-ready local fabric control and a scalable solution for routing material through a large-scale implementation. This is presented within the context of treating the fabric as an “unactuated robot” traversing through the “actuated environment” of a budger array. Examined holistically as applied research, the thesis focuses on the actuation, feedback, and control, necessary for robust fabric manipulation. The budger is physically redesigned for significant performance, manufacturability, and serviceability gains. A custom vision feedback algorithm is presented for real-time stable feedback on the state of the fabric, including position and wrinkle information even in the case of deformation or occlusion. And a system architecture for the unactuated robot provides a scalable solution to handling large numbers of fabric across a decentralized network of budger groups.