It started with tennis balls. As a former collegiate tennis player, Daniela Rus habitually rolls two tennis balls around in her hand as she paces her office. As a robotics researcher at Dartmouth College, she wondered why the tennis balls shouldn’t be able to roll themselves around.
Nine Crystal robot modules developed in the Dartmouth Robotics Lab form a 2-D self-reconfigurable modular robot system composed of atoms. Each atom is a square that moves by expanding and contracting by a factor of two in each dimension. Credit: Robert Fitch, Dartmouth College
She soon determined that electromagnets didn’t have enough lifting power to solve the tennis-ball problem. However, her question led to a decade-long research program into the challenges of designing robots that reconfigure themselves to perform different tasks. Most recently, Rus and Dartmouth Robotics Lab researchers developed the first control methods that guarantee such self-reconfigurable robots won’t fall apart as they change shape or move across a surface.
The paper by postdoctoral researcher Zach Butler, graduate student Keith Butler, Rus and visiting professor Kohji Tomita from Japans National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology appeared in the September 2004 issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research (IJRR).
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