AI News, Simple Robots Perform Complex Tasks With Environmental Modifications

Simple Robots Perform Complex Tasks With Environmental Modifications

There’s an expectation in robotics that in order to be useful, robots have to be able to adapt to unstructured environments.

An enormous amount of effort and creativity goes into designing robots that can reliably operate in places like these, with a focus on developing methods of sensing, locomotion, and manipulation that handle all kinds of different situations.

Rather than trying to find a way for the robot to handle obstacles like these, researchers from UPenn and Cornell decided to teach the robot to modify its environment by giving it access to blocks and ramps that it could (autonomously) use to make obstacles less obstacle-y.

This behavior is completely autonomous: The system is given a high-level task to accomplish, and the ramps and blocks are placed in the environment for it to use if it decides that they’d come in handy, but it doesn’t have explicit instructions about what to do every time.

And mobility is just one example of environmental augmentation: Perception is a challenge for robots, but what if you had a robot with lots of fancy sensors scout out an environment, and then place fiducials or RFID markers all over the place so that other robots with far cheaper sensors could easily navigate around and recognize objects?

Simple Robots Perform Complex Tasks With Environmental Modifications in IEEE Spectrum

By Evan Ackerman There’s an expectation in robotics that in order to be useful, robots have to be able to adapt to unstructured environments.

An enormous amount of effort and creativity goes into designing robots that can reliably operate in places like these, with a focus on developing methods of sensing, locomotion, and manipulation that handle all kinds of different situations.

Rather than trying to find a way for the robot to handle obstacles like these, researchers from UPenn and Cornell decided to teach the robot to modify its environment by giving it access to blocks and ramps that it could (autonomously) use to make obstacles less obstacle-y.

This behavior is completely autonomous: The system is given a high-level task to accomplish, and the ramps and blocks are placed in the environment for it to use if it decides that they’d come in handy, but it doesn’t have explicit instructions about what to do every time.

And mobility is just one example of environmental augmentation: Perception is a challenge for robots, but what if you had a robot with lots of fancy sensors scout out an environment, and then place fiducials or RFID markers all over the place so that other robots with far cheaper sensors could easily navigate around and recognize objects?

Self-reconfiguring modular robot

Modular self-reconfiguring robotic systems or self-reconfigurable modular robots are autonomous kinematic machines with variable morphology.

Beyond conventional actuation, sensing and control typically found in fixed-morphology robots, self-reconfiguring robots are also able to deliberately change their own shape by rearranging the connectivity of their parts, in order to adapt to new circumstances, perform new tasks, or recover from damage.

For example, a robot made of such components could assume a worm-like shape to move through a narrow pipe, reassemble into something with spider-like legs to cross uneven terrain, then form a third arbitrary object (like a ball or wheel that can spin itself) to move quickly over a fairly flat terrain;

A feature found in some cases is the ability of the modules to automatically connect and disconnect themselves to and from each other, and to form into many objects or perform many tasks moving or manipulating the environment.

By saying 'self-reconfiguring' or 'self-reconfigurable' it means that the mechanism or device is capable of utilizing its own system of control such as with actuators or stochastic means to change its overall structural shape.

Having the quality of being 'modular' in 'self-reconfiguring modular robotics' is to say that the same module or set of modules can be added to or removed from the system, as opposed to being generically 'modularized' in the broader sense.

The underlying intent is to have an indefinite number of identical modules, or a finite and relatively small set of identical modules, in a mesh or matrix structure of self-reconfigurable modules.

It is sufficient for self-reconfigurable modules to be produced at a conventional factory, where dedicated machines stamp or mold components that are then assembled into a module, and added to an existing matrix in order to supplement it to increase the quantity or to replace worn out modules.

Some advantages of separating into multiple matrices include the ability to tackle multiple and simpler tasks at locations that are remote from each other simultaneously, transferring through barriers with openings that are too small for a single larger matrix to fit through but not too small for smaller matrix fragments or individual modules, and energy saving purposes by only utilizing enough modules to accomplish a given task.

Some advantages of combining multiple matrices into a single matrix is ability to form larger structures such as an elongated bridge, more complex structures such as a robot with many arms or an arm with more degrees of freedom, and increasing strength.

Increasing strength, in this sense, can be in the form of increasing the rigidity of a fixed or static structure, increasing the net or collective amount of force for raising, lowering, pushing, or pulling another object, or another part of the matrix, or any combination of these features.

Modular robots are usually composed of multiple building blocks of a relatively small repertoire, with uniform docking interfaces that allow transfer of mechanical forces and moments, electrical power and communication throughout the robot.

The modular building blocks usually consist of some primary structural actuated unit, and potentially additional specialized units such as grippers, feet, wheels, cameras, payload and energy storage and generation.

The quest for self-reconfiguring robotic structures is to some extent inspired by envisioned applications such as long-term space missions, that require long-term self-sustaining robotic ecology that can handle unforeseen situations and may require self repair.

A second source of inspiration are biological systems that are self-constructed out of a relatively small repertoire of lower-level building blocks (cells or amino acids, depending on scale of interest).

This architecture underlies biological systems' ability to physically adapt, grow, heal, and even self replicate – capabilities that would be desirable in many engineered systems.

When the need arises, the consumer calls forth the robots to achieve a task such as 'clean the gutters' or 'change the oil in the car' and the robot assumes the shape needed and does the task.

The roots of the concept of modular self-reconfigurable robots can be traced back to the 'quick change' end effector and automatic tool changers in computer numerical controlled machining centers in the 1970s.

While these researchers started with from a mechanical engineering emphasis, designing and building modules then developing code to program them, the work of Daniela Rus and Wei-min Shen developed hardware but had a greater impact on the programming aspects.

It is part of the PolyBot modular robot family that has demonstrated many modes of locomotion including walking: biped, 14 legged, slinky-like, snake-like: concertina in a gopher hole, inchworm gaits, rectilinear undulation and sidewinding gaits, rolling like a tread at up to 1.4 m/s, riding a tricycle, climbing: stairs, poles pipes, ramps etc.

AMOEBA-I, a three-module reconfigurable mobile robot was developed in Shenyang Institute of Automation (SIA), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) by Liu J G et al.[1][2].AMOEBA-I has nine kinds of non-isomorphic configurations and high mobility under unstructured environments.Four generations of its platform have been developed and a series of researches have been carried out on their reconfiguration mechanism, non-isomorphic configurations, tipover stability, and reconfiguration planning.

High spatial resolution for arbitrary three-dimensional shape formation with modular robots can be accomplished using lattice system with large quantities of very small, prospectively microscopic modules.

At small scales, and with large quantities of modules, deterministic control over reconfiguration of individual modules will become unfeasible, while stochastic mechanisms will naturally prevail.

Each module has three degree of freedom, two of them using the diametrical axis within a regular cube, and a third (center) axis of rotation connecting the two spherical parts.

Differing from swarm robot, self-reconfigurable robot and morphgenetic robot, the research focuses on self-assembly swarm modular robots that interact and dock as an autonomous mobile module with others to achieve swarm intelligence and furtherly discuss the autonomous construction in space station and exploratory tools and artificial complex structures.

Each Sambot robot can run as an autonomous individual in wheel and besides, using combination of the sensors and docking mechanism, the robot can interact and dock with the environments and other robots.

Though algorithms have been developed for handling thousands of units in ideal conditions, challenges to scalability remain both in low-level control and high-level planning to overcome realistic constraints:

The founders of this Google group intend it to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas within the community of modular robotics researchers around the world and thus promote acceleration of advancements in modular robotics.

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