Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bio-inspired modules open new horizons for robotics

17.11.2004


Inspired by cell biology, European researchers have created the world’s first shape-shifting robot made of many modules, which could lead to new applications in fields ranging from medicine and space exploration to education and entertainment.



On display at IST 2004 in The Hague and being showcased on 17 November in Tokyo, the HYDRA project’s robots have broken new ground in robotics and artificial intelligence through a simple but highly effective design that allows the devices to configure themselves into almost any shape and perform a variety of functions. “We have shown that electronic artefacts can change not only their behaviour but also their shape during their lifetime, something that I don’t think most people believed was possible,” explains Henrik Hautop Lund, a professor at the Maersk Institute in Denmark and the coordinator of the HYDRA project, which was funded under the European Commission’s IST Programme.

Over the last three years the Maersk Institute, together with LEGO, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Zurich, developed two types of spherical modules, the ATRON and the HYDRON that can operate autonomously, communicate with each other and be programmed to take on virtually any shape and behaviour. The HYDRON was developed for use in fluids while the ATRON, which is the module being presented widely this week, was created for terrestrial use. “We based the design on the way biological cells interact, how they move, die and reconstruct themselves, and we emulated that in the modules, which are essentially building blocks for robotic devices that look very much like a string of atoms or cells when connected together,” Lund says. “These are the first robots of their kind, especially in terms of the simplicity of their design and their ability to change shape.”


Each ATRON module is an 11cm-diameter sphere constructed from two hemispheres – a north and south - that can rotate around the equator. Each hemisphere has a set of male and female connectors that allow it to hook together and operate in unison with other modules – as few as one or two or as many as several hundred. “The more modules we have, the more interesting the shapes we can produce and the functions we can perform,” Lund says, noting that the project partners have so far manufactured one hundred ATRON units. “For example, the design could start off as a small car with four modules touching the ground and acting as wheels and other modules connecting them. The car might come to a hole in a wall it can’t fit through so the modules would communicate with each other and transform into a snake. After it goes through the hole the robotic snake finds itself faced with a staircase. Now, because the snake can’t go up the staircase it transforms itself into a climbing device, goes up the stairs and reverts back to being a car.”

Each of the modules are equipped with infrared sensors to detect other modules and objects, and infrared transmitters and receivers to communicate with each other and receive orders. An onboard computer system consisting of four small processors is the artificial intelligence core of the modules allowing the robots to operate autonomously, while additional sensors measure movement, speed of rotation and degrees of tilt. The male and female connectors, as well as the rotation, are operated by small but powerful motors that allow one module to move and hold two others, while the hook design allows the modules to connect quickly even if they are misaligned. Perhaps one of the most innovative solutions developed by the project refers to how the modules obtain power.

“Because each module is fitted with a small battery, similar to the most advanced batteries used in mobile phones, the problem we faced is what to do when the battery of one module runs out, given that in a complex formation the death of one module would make the rest useless,” Lund explains. “We overcame this problem by constructing the modules with electrically grounded skeletons through which they can transfer power allowing them to regenerate much like biological cells.”

In fact, according to Lund, biological cells could one day end up meeting these robotic brethren. “This may be a far off vision, but if we could bring these kinds of robots down to the nano level there are possible uses for them in medicine, where they could be used to repair the body internally,” the coordinator says. “We can also envision them being used to inspect hazardous environments or in space exploration where they could replace devices such as the Mars rovers because they would be more effective at overcoming obstacles.”

In the shorter term, Lund sees potential for the ATRON to be used in education and entertainment – “a new concept in toys, more advanced than say the AIBO dog or the WonderBorg robotic insect” – something that has elicited great interest in Japan. “Fundamentally, however, this is a research project through which we have proven that shape-shifting robots can be created,” Lund says. “Now it’s a question of letting people know about it and seeing what new horizons it opens up.”

Prof. Henrik Hautop Lund | alfa
Further information:
http://istresults.cordis.lu/
http://www.mip.sdu.dk

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Energy hybrid: Battery meets super capacitor
01.12.2016 | Technische Universität Graz

nachricht Tailor-Made Membranes for the Environment
30.11.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>