General-purpose robots have plenty of limitations. They can be expensive and cumbersome. They often accomplish only a single type of task.
But modular robots – composed of several interchangeable parts, or modules – are far more flexible. If one part breaks, it can be removed and replaced. Components can be rearranged as needed – or better yet, the robots can figure out how to reconfigure themselves, based on the tasks they’re assigned and the environments they’re navigating.
Now, a Cornell-led team has developed modular robots that can perceive their surroundings, make decisions and autonomously assume different shapes in order to perform various tasks – an accomplishment that brings the vision of adaptive, multipurpose robots a step closer to reality.
“This is the first time modular robots have been demonstrated with autonomous reconfiguration and behavior that is perception-driven,” said Hadas Kress-Gazit, associate professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and principal investigator on the project. “We are creating a modular system that is able to do different tasks autonomously. By changing the high-level task, it totally changes its behavior.”
The results of this research were published Oct. 31 in Science Robotics.
The robots are composed of wheeled, cube-shaped modules that can detach and reattach to form new shapes with different capabilities. The modules, developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, have magnets to attach to each other, and Wi-Fi to communicate with a centralized system.
These interchangeable modules are connected to a sensor module, which is equipped with multiple cameras and a small computer for collecting and processing data about its surroundings. The robot’s software includes a high-level planner to direct its actions and reconfiguration, as well as perception algorithms that can map, navigate and classify the environment.
In earlier work, the researchers created an open-source online tool where users could create, simulate and test designs for robot configurations and behaviors. They populated the library by hosting design competitions and inviting students to invent and test different shapes.
The library now consists of 57 possible robot configurations, such as Proboscis (with a long arm in front), Scorpion (modules arranged in perpendicular lines, with a horizontal row in front) and Snake (modules in a single line), and 97 behaviors, such as pickUp, highReach, drive or drop. Once the robot is given a task, its high-level planner searches the library for shapes and behaviors that meet the current needs.
Other modular robot systems have successfully performed specific tasks in controlled environments, but these robots are the first to demonstrate fully autonomous behavior and reconfigurations based on the task and an unfamiliar environment, Kress-Gazit said.
“I want to tell the robot what it should be doing, what its goals are, but not how it should be doing it,” she said. “I don’t actually prescribe, ‘Move to the left, change your shape.’ All these decisions are made autonomously by the robot.”
The team proved the effectiveness of its system with three experiments. In the first, a robot was instructed to find, retrieve and deliver all pink and green objects to a designated zone marked with a blue square on the wall. The robot used the “Car” configuration to explore, and then reshaped itself into “Proboscis” to retrieve a pink object from a narrow pathway, finally returning to its car shape to deliver its haul.
In the second experiment, the robot was charged with placing a circuit board in a mailbox marked with pink tape at the top of a set of stairs, and in the third, it was instructed to place a postage stamp high on the box – essentially the same task, but requiring different behaviors in different environments.
Researchers found the hardware and low-level software were most prone to error. The second experiment, for instance, took 24 attempts before succeeding, with the stairs posing a particular challenge. If such issues are resolved, robots like these could be used for any jobs that require maneuvering in changing terrain, such as cleaning up from an earthquake or natural disaster in which a robot might need to enter building cracks and crevices, Kress-Gazit said.
“Modular robots in general are just fascinating systems, because you’re not restricted by one shape, so there’s a lot of flexibility,” she said. “The hardware is still in research stages, but if we had commercial modular robots they would be very useful for anything where the environment changes significantly and the robot should adapt to its environment as well.”
The Latest on: Shape-shifting robots
via Google News
The Latest on: Shape-shifting robots
- FDA grants IDE nod to LensGen’s presbyopia-correcting intraocular lenson November 29, 2021 at 6:15 am
Intraocular lens developer LensGen announced today that it received FDA investigational device exemption (IDE) for its Juvene lens.
- The world after the COVID-19 pandemicon November 26, 2021 at 12:54 pm
In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some signs of a shift of paradigm, including the sudden disappearance of the “wall” ideology: “a cough was enough to make it suddenly impossible to evad ...
- These shape-shifting robot fish swim through the body to attack canceron November 22, 2021 at 4:00 pm
Scientists have been looking for new ways to treat cancer for years now. Newly developed shape-shifting robots could provide a new avenue for treatment. The new robots are shaped like fish and can ...
- Workers 'Treated Like Animals'; Fake Engineer Sentenced; Plant's Note Closure | Today in Manufacturing Ep. 42on November 22, 2021 at 10:39 am
Also on the podcast, shape-shifting robots fight cancer, Amazon faces lawsuit over van crash, UAW's toxic culture, space garbage threatens space station and spinning projectiles fast enough to launch ...
- Internet of Things (IoT) in Retailon November 19, 2021 at 11:01 pm
The pandemic has caused a seismic shift in demand for IoT in retail ... with 92% having already implemented IoT in their stores, in some shape or form. That said, retail IoT adoption efforts can be ...
- Tiny Shape-Shifting Microrobots Can Locate Cancer Cells. With Magnets?on November 19, 2021 at 5:15 pm
A team of scientists successfully killed cancer cells using a magnetically-guided microrobot! This technology could revolutionize future treatment.
- Algorithms are everywhere. Here's why you should careon November 19, 2021 at 1:41 pm
And algorithms aren't just on our phones: they're used in all kinds of processes, on and offline, from helping value your home to teaching your robot vacuum to steer clear of your dog's poop. Over the ...
- This Could Come in Handyon November 17, 2021 at 1:55 pm
MIT's robotics framework uses reinforcement learning to teach robots how to reorient thousands of objects in their hands.
- Shape-Shifting Microrobots Deliver Drugs to Cancer Cellson November 17, 2021 at 8:34 am
Delivering drugs directly to cancer cells could help reduce these unpleasant symptoms. Now, in a proof-of-concept study, researchers reporting in ACS Nano made fish-shaped microrobots that are guided ...
via Bing News