About the lab

DARC Lab  (2014 to present)

The DARC Lab at the University of Utah was founded in July 2014 by Dr. Kam K. Leang, when he joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering.  The acronym DARC stands for design, automation, robotics, and control — the research focus of the lab.  The DARC lab spans 1200 sq. ft. of space in the newly renovated Rio Tinto Kennecott Building (MEK room 1156) on the main campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.   The lab houses state-of the-art equipment for research in DARC activities. For example, some of the work focuses on design, modeling, and control of electroactive materials including piezoelectric ceramics, electroactive polymers, shape memory alloys, and a host of other materials that respond to electrical signals.  More recently, projects in unmanned autonomous systems such as aerial robots are being conducted.  For more detailed information on research projects and funded projects, please see the funded research projects page.

Lab History

Before the DARC Lab, Dr. Leang’s group was formerly known as the easyLab (2008 to 2014) and CAMS Lab (2005 to 2008).  Read more about the two previous labs:

  • The easyLab (2008 to 2014): The easyLab operated between July 2008 and June 2014 in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno.  The acronym stood for electroactive systems and control (2008 to 2013), then later electroactive autonomous systems (2013 to 2014) — to better capture the shift in research focus to autonomous systems.  The core research focus of the easyLab was on design, modeling, and control of electroactive material systems.  As mentioned above,  electroactive materials include piezoelectric ceramics, electroactive polymers, shape memory alloys, and a host of other materials that respond to electrical signals.  Much of the work was in piezo-based nanopositioning systems, where studies in advanced mechanical design and feedback and feedforward control systems to compensate for dynamic and nonlinear effects were undertaken.  The group also developed high-speed multi-axis nanopositioning systems for scanning probe microscopy, such as video-rate atomic force microscopes (AFMs).  Examples of these devices are highlighted on the nanopositioners page.The group also focused on ionic polymer-metal composite (IPMC) actuators, with application in underwater robotics, soft mechatronics, and soft sensors and actuators.  IPMC is a class of electroactive polymers known for their ability to work in an aqueous environment under a low driving voltage (<5V). Additionally, these materials are soft, flexible, and can be easily shaped to suit a particular application.  However, the challenges include nonlinear and time-varying behavior, back-relaxation effect, dynamic effects, and manufacturing.  Dr. Leang’s group collaborated with Prof. Kwang J. Kim’s group at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
  • CAMS Lab (2005 to 2008): CAMS Lab operated between August 2005 to June 2008 under the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. The acronym stood for control and mechatronic systems.  Back then, the focus was on the development of novel control and mechatronic systems, with applications in micro/nano positioning systems.