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Student Showcase Archive

Caroline Yan Zheng

PhD Work

PhD work

  • Prothesis, Jewelry, He'er

    Prothesis, Jewelry, He'er, Caroline Yan Zheng 2018
    Photographer: Sapphire Goss

  • Wearable Companion

    Wearable Companion, 2017
    Photographer: Sapphire Goss

  • Personalised companion soft robot co-design workshop @ V&A, 2016

    Personalised companion soft robot co-design workshop @ V&A, 2016, Caroline Yan Zheng 2016

  • Distant Whisper

    Distant Whisper, Ino Theodorou & Caroline Yan Zheng 2017

Synthetic affective touch by soft robotics, Exploring and negotiating a novel design space

My practice-led PhD research explores how wearable technology and the aesthetics of materiality could be reconciled for technological artefacts to foster emotionally rich sensory experience and emotionally engaging properties. Emerging from a lack of connection with current “emotionally intelligent” artefacts, and drawing from my background in fashion design and material making, I investigate emotional qualities by exploring materiality and corporeal relations. My practice focuses on exploring the affective qualities of materials and modes of interaction that facilitate users’ subjective, personalisable experience.

The methods used for investigations are studio practice, toolkits design and co-design workshops. My practice works with the chosen medium of soft robotics and involves design and control of soft actuators. Specifically, I investigate the affective qualities of tactile sensations enabled by soft robotic interfaces and how affective relation is formed through a mutual learning process between the artefact and the user. The research also suggests the disruptive social implications when physical sensations are reproducible and redistributable.

MPhil work

MPhil work

  • Soft robotic artefact prototype #3

    Soft robotic artefact prototype #3, Caroline Yan Zheng 2016

  • Facial recognition to register affective reactions to kinetic behaviours

    Facial recognition to register affective reactions to kinetic behaviours, Caroline Yan Zheng 2016

  • Skill Enhancer – Integrated Artificial Muscles

    Skill Enhancer – Integrated Artificial Muscles, Katharina Dubbick&Caroline Yan Zheng 2017

  • "The Protocol", for Are we human? – 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial

    "The Protocol", for Are we human? – 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, Caroline Yan Zheng, Victoria Geaney, Sarah Sajid, Tim Newton 2016

Artefacts that touch people Designing affective experiences with soft robotic materials



  • PhD


    School of Communication


    Information Experience Design, 2017–2019

  • MPhil


    School of Communication


    Information Experience Design, 2015–2019

  • Caroline Yan Zheng is a designer and researcher at the intersection of fashion, soft robotics, human-computer interaction(HCI) and experience design.

    Her design practice explores how wearable technology and the aesthetics of materiality could be reconciled for technological artefacts to foster emotionally rich sensory experience. She integrates creative and fashion practices with the design and realisation of affective interactions. She is passionate in creating personalisable, emotionally intelligent robotics and sentimental machines. Using co-design and speculative design she also investigates the social impact of affective technologies. 

    Trained in ESMOD Paris for fashion design and pattern cutting, she holds an MA in Fashion Futures from London College of Fashion. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art, in Information Experience Design (IED) and Fashion. She designs simulated affective touch and novel tactile sensations using soft robotic interfaces and creates soft, wearable solutions that could be applied to immersive experience design, therapeutic treatment for mental health, human-robotic interaction and affective communication via the tactile channel.

    Her entrepreneurial experience includes developing a successful ahead-of-the-curve cultural service between 2005-2010 in China and a recently awarded grant from MedTech Super Connector (Research England) to translate her research prototype into commercially viable product and service. The applications include mental health and improving patient comfort in cancer treatment.

    She has also initiated Affective Futures, a cross-disciplinary space exploring human-machine relationships mediated by affective technology and robotics. Her work and workshops have been at the V&A Museum, Vogue and Vice media, London Design Festival, STATE of Emotion Festival Berlin, Athens Digital Art Festival, and Manchester Science Festival, the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, among others.

  • Degrees

  • MA Fashion Futures, London College of Fashion, 2014; Women's wear & Knitwear, L'École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode (ESMOD) Paris & Beijing, 2013; BA English, Tianjin University of Foreign Studies, 2003
  • Experience

  • Venture lead on health tech knowledge transfer, 2018, teaching on affective interaction design and soft actuator design, London, 2017/18; Fashion tech analyst, Beecham Research, London, 2015
  • Exhibitions

  • Affective Futures, V&A, London 2018; Creating a touch/hugging machine with soft robotics, Athens Digital Arts Festival, 2017, Greece /; STATE of Emotion, the Sentimental Machine, Kühlhaus, Berlin 2016; Emotive Soft Robotics, London Design Festival, London 2016; the Protocol, in Are We Human?, 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, Istanbul 2016; Sihouette of Anxiety, Patterns of Emotion, Victoria House, London 2014
  • Awards

  • MedTech Super Connector, Research England, NIKKEI
  • Conferences

  • Zheng, C. Y. (2018) ‘Affective Touch with Soft Robotic Actuators - A Design Toolkit for Personalised Affective Communication’, in Workshop: Reshaping Touch Communication: An Interdisciplinary Research Agenda. 21 April 2018 Montreal; Invited speaker, Creative Compliance, ICRA 2018 Robot and Art Forum, International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA)2018, 21-25 May 2018, Brisbane, Australia; Zheng, C. Y., 2017. Building sentimental machines with people – anticipating the future of our affective relations with sensual robotics, Anticipation Conference. Nov 2017, London, UK; Being relational: entering the world of sensory & embodied communication design, Design Research Society Conference(DRS), June 2016, UK; Peer reviewer for MOCO'17 (4th International Conference on Movement Computing) and TEI'18 (12th ACM International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction)
  • Publications

  • Book chapter, Zheng, C.Y., Liao, C., 2018. Psychotropic interior in: Brooker., G., Harriss H., Walker K.(Eds.), Interior Futures. Crucible Press, USA; Zheng, C. Y. (2017) ‘Machinising Humans and Humanising Machines: Emotional Relationships Mediated by Technology and Material Experience’, in Digital Bodies. Palgrave Studies in Performance and Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. pp. 111–127.