Daniel J. Preston


Dan begins his appointment as Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rice University in July 2019, where he will lead the Preston Innovation Lab in research on energy, materials, and fluids. He obtained his S.M. (2014) and Ph.D. (2017) in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under the guidance of Prof. Evelyn N. Wang. Following his graduate work, he trained as a postdoctoral fellow (2017-2019) at Harvard University in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, advised by Prof. George M. Whitesides. He is a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, the Tau Beta Pi Fellowship, and the Wunsch Foundation Silent Hoist and Crane Award for Outstanding Graduate Research.


Soft devices are rapidly becoming an integral part of aquatic robotics. However, current soft devices are still actuated by hard valves and electronic controls, and reliance on these components limits the use of soft devices in applications where hard structures or electronics are not compatible. This work describes completely soft digital logic that can be integrated into soft devices, and that allow computation and control within these devices, without hard valves or electronics. We demonstrate data storage, signal processing, digital-to-analog conversion, environmental sensing, collaborative interaction with humans, and autonomous operation in an underwater environment. The soft digital logic gates shown here are scalable to high volumes of airflow, do not consume power at steady state, and can be reconfigured to achieve multiple functionalities from a single design. This work represents a step toward a new strategy to develop autonomous control – one not involving an electronic interface or hard components – for soft devices.