Sonia Roberts

ESE PhD Student

Contact: soro at seas dot upenn dot edu


I am an Electrical and Systems Engineering PhD student in Kod*lab, which is part of the GRASP lab at the University of Pennsylvania. I am studying legged locomotion in fragile environments such as sand, rubble piles, or dense vegetation.

I graduated from Vassar College in 2010 with a B.A. in Cognitive Science where I worked under Prof. John Long building and experimenting with biologically inspired robots to test hypotheses about biomechanics and evolutionary biology.

Prior to coming to UPenn, I worked as a research technician on the Fly Olympiad Project at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus attempting to create a functional map of the Drosophila melanogaster brain.

Current research

Mobility challenges in fragile environments (sand dunes; rubble; slippage)


A full list of my publications can be found on my Google Scholar page.

Roberts, Sonia F., and D. E. Koditschek. 2019. Mitigating Energy Loss in a Robot Hopping on a Physically Emulated Dissipative Substrate. ICRA (IEEE).

Roberts, Sonia F., and D. E. Koditschek. 2018. Reactive Velocity Control Reduces Energetic Cost of Jumping on Simulated Granular Media.  ROBIO (IEEE). (Conference)

Qian, Feifei, Doug Jerolmack, Nicholas Lancaster, George Nikolich, Paul Reverdy, Sonia F. Roberts, Thomas Shipley, R. Scott Van Pelt, Ted Zobeck, and D. E. Koditschek. 2017. Ground robotic measurements of aeolian processes. Aeolian Research. (Journal)

Triphan, Tilman, Aljoscha Nern, Sonia F. Roberts, Wyatt Korff, Daniel Q Naiman, Roland Strauss. 2016. A screen for constituents of motor control and decision making in Drosophila reveals visual distance-estimation neurons. Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group). (Journal)

Roberts, Sonia F., Jeffrey M. Duperret, Xinwan Li, Hesheng Wang, and D. E. Koditschek. 2014. Desert RHex Technical Report: Tengger Desert Trip. University of Pennsylvania Technical Report. (Report)

Roberts, Sonia, Jeff Duperret, Aaron M. Johnson, Scott van Pelt, Ted Zobeck, Nick Lancaster, and Daniel E. Koditschek. 2014. Desert RHex Technical Report: Jornada and White Sands Trip. University of Pennsylvania Technical Report. (Report)

Roberts, Sonia F., Jonathan Hirokawa, Hannah G. Rosenblum, Hassan Sakhtah, Andres A. Gutierrez, Marianne E. Porter, and John H. Long, Jr. 2014. Testing biological hypotheses with embodied robots: adaptations, accidents, and by-products in the evolution of vertebrates. Frontiers in Robotics and AI 1, 12. (Journal; RoboHub summary)

Long, John H., Jr., Nicole Krenitsky, Sonia Roberts, Jonathan Hirokawa, Josh de Leeuw, and Marianne Porter. 2011. Testing Biomimetic Structures in Bioinspired Robots: How Vertebrae Control the Stiffness of the Body and the Behavior of Fish-like Swimmers. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 51 (1), pp. 158–175. (Journal)