Wei-Min Shen of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute recently reported to NASA significant progress in developing "SuperBot," identical modular units that plug into each other to create robots that can stand, crawl, wiggle and even roll. He illustrated his comments with striking video of the system in action, video now posted on line.
SuperBot modular robotic units self assemble into larger structures, such as this humanoid walker assembly. Credit: USC Information Sciences Institute
Shen's presentation took place at the Space Technology and Applications International Forum 2007 (STAIF) held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the report, he first offered a description of the SuperBot work:
"Superbot consists of Lego-like but autonomous robotic modules that can reconfigure into different systems for different tasks. Examples of configurable systems include rolling tracks or wheels (for efficient travel), spiders or centipedes (for climbing), snakes (for burrowing in ground), long arms (for inspection and repair in space), and devices that can fly in micro-gravity environment.
"Each module is a complete robotic system and has a power supply, micro- controllers, sensors, communication, three degrees of freedom, and six connecting faces (front, back, left, right, up and down) to dynamically connect to other modules.
"This design allows flexible bending, docking, and continuous rotation. A single module can move forward, back, left, right, flip-over, and rotate as a wheel. Modules can communication with each other for totally distributed control and can support arbitrary module reshuffling during their operation.
"They have both internal and external sensors for monitoring self status and environmental parameters. They can form arbitrary configurations (graphs) and can control these configurations for different functionality such as locomotion, manipulation, and self-repair."
SuperBot modular robotic units assemble into a circular structure able to roll like a wheel.. Credit: USC Information Sciences Institute
Shen illustrated his words with SuperBot action video showing these processes.
He and his colleagues and students ma e the fillms in just one week, immediately after completing the mechanics and electronics hardware for the latest batch of SuperBot modules at the beginning of February.
"The fact that SuperBot can achieve so much in so short a time demonstrates the unique value of modular, multifunctional and self-reconfigurable robots," Shen said.
Modular robotic units self-assembled into this structure able to walk on four legs. Credit: USC Information Sciences Institute