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Distributed Robotics


Robots

AMOUR Molecule Crystal Paper Manipulator Inchworm Shady

Molecule

A self-reconfiguring robot consists of a set of identical modules that can dynamically and autonomously reconfigure in a variety of shapes, to best fit the terrain, environment, and task.  Self-reconfiguration leads to versatile robots that can support multiple modalities of locomotion and manipulation.  For example, a self-reconfiguring robot can aggregate as a snake to traverse a tunnel and then reconfigure as a six-legged robot to traverse rough terrain, such as a lunar surface, and change shape again to climb stairs and enter a building.

We have designed a small robotic module we call the Molecule capable of self-reconfiguration in three-dimensional space.  The Molecule (see figure below) is capable of independent movement on a substrate of identical Molecules, including straight-line traversal and 90 degree convex and concave transitions to adjacent surfaces.

Current Molecule Design (Male)
In the current version, there are male 
and female versions of the Molecule.

A Molecule robot consists of two atoms linked by a rigid connection called a bond.  Each atom has five inter-Molecule connection points and two degrees of freedom.  One degree of freedom allows the atom to rotate 180 degrees relative to its bond connection, and the other degree of freedom allows the atom (thus the entire Molecule) to rotate relative 180 degrees relative to one of the inter-Molecule connectors at a right angle to the bond connection.

This movie shows how Molecules can reconfigure to change the shape of the robot.  In this case, the task is locomotion--utilizing individual module motions, the structure can move itself.  With only four modules the movement is limited to the plane, but with additional modules the system can perform more sophisticated tasks such as stair climbing or building towers to access locations out of the plane.


4-Molecule Locomotion Sequence
(19MB AVI, DivX codec)

Hardware

So far, there have been three hardware versions of the Molecule robot.  The overall design, as described above, hasn't changed since the first version.  Most of the changes have been related to the connection mechanism.  To find out more about the different versions, go to their respective pages:

Version 1

Version 2

Version 3

Software

The Molecule is controlled by two types of software: low-level assembly code in the onboard processor(s), and high-level code on a workstation.  More on this to come...

We have also done extensive simulation of Molecule robot systems.  Go to the simulation page to see some of our simulation results.