Mobile motor could pave the way for robots to assemble complex structures — including other robots.
Years ago, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld had an audacious thought. Struck by the fact that all the world’s living things are built out of combinations of just 20 amino acids, he wondered: Might it be possible to create a kit of just 20 fundamental parts that could be used to assemble all of the different technological products in the world?
Gershenfeld and his students have been making steady progress in that direction ever since. Their latest achievement, presented this week at an international robotics conference, consists of a set of five tiny fundamental parts that can be assembled into a wide variety of functional devices, including a tiny “walking” motor that can move back and forth across a surface or turn the gears of a machine.
Previously, Gershenfeld and his students showed that structures assembled from many small, identical subunits can have numerous mechanical properties. Next, they demonstrated that a combination of rigid and flexible part types can be used to create morphing airplane wings, a longstanding goal in aerospace engineering. Their latest work adds components for movement and logic, and will be presented at the International Conference on Manipulation, Automation and Robotics at Small Scales (MARSS) in Helsinki, Finland, in a paper by Gershenfeld and MIT graduate student Will Langford.
Their work offers an alternative to today’s approaches to constructing robots, which largely fall into one of two types: custom machines that work well but are relatively expensive and inflexible, and reconfigurable ones that sacrifice performance for versatility. In the new approach, Langford came up with a set of five millimeter-scale components, all of which can be attached to each other by a standard connector. These parts include the previous rigid and flexible types, along with electromagnetic parts, a coil, and a magnet. In the future, the team plans to make these out of still smaller basic part types.
Using this simple kit of tiny parts, Langford assembled them into a novel kind of motor that moves an appendage in discrete mechanical steps, which can be used to turn a gear wheel, and a mobile form of the motor that turns those steps into locomotion, allowing it to “walk” across a surface in a way that is reminiscent of the molecular motors that move muscles. These parts could also be assembled into hands for gripping, or legs for walking, as needed for a particular task, and then later reassembled as those needs change. Gershenfeld refers to them as “digital materials,” discrete parts that can be reversibly joined, forming a kind of functional micro-LEGO.
The new system is a significant step toward creating a standardized kit of parts that could be used to assemble robots with specific capabilities adapted to a particular task or set of tasks. Such purpose-built robots could then be disassembled and reassembled as needed in a variety of forms, without the need to design and manufacture new robots from scratch for each application.
Langford’s initial motor has an ant-like ability to lift seven times its own weight. But if greater forces are required, many of these parts can be added to provide more oomph. Or if the robot needs to move in more complex ways, these parts could be distributed throughout the structure. The size of the building blocks can be chosen to match their application; the team has made nanometer-sized parts to make nanorobots, and meter-sized parts to make megarobots. Previously, specialized techniques were needed at each of these length scale extremes.
“One emerging application is to make tiny robots that can work in confined spaces,” Gershenfeld says. Some of the devices assembled in this project, for example, are smaller than a penny yet can carry out useful tasks.
To build in the “brains,” Langford has added part types that contain millimeter-sized integrated circuits, along with a few other part types to take care of connecting electrical signals in three dimensions.
The simplicity and regularity of these structures makes it relatively easy for their assembly to be automated. To do that, Langford has developed a novel machine that’s like a cross between a 3-D printer and the pick-and-place machines that manufacture electronic circuits, but unlike either of those, this one can produce complete robotic systems directly from digital designs. Gershenfeld says this machine is a first step toward to the project’s ultimate goal of “making an assembler that can assemble itself out of the parts that it’s assembling.”
“Standardization is an extremely important issue in microrobotics, to reduce the production costs and, as a result, to improve acceptance of this technology to the level of regular industrial robots,” says Sergej Fatikow, head of the Division of Microrobotics and Control Engineering, at the University of Oldenburg, Germany, who was not associated with this research. The new work “addresses assembling of sophisticated microrobotic systems from a small set of standard building blocks, which may revolutionize the field of microrobotics and open up numerous applications at small scales,” he says.
“This work changes the way we think about the integration of structure, actuation, and control,” says George Small, chief technology officer for Moog, Inc, a leading maker of actuators for robotics, who also was not connected with this work. “It opens the door to new ways of designing, assembling, and reusing these active structures to provide innovative new solutions for our customers,” he says.
Learn and see more: Tiny motor can “walk” to carry out tasks
The Latest on: Robots assembling other robots
via Google News
The Latest on: Robots assembling other robots
- Cartesian Robots Are a Simpler, Lower-Cost Alternative to SCARA and Six-Axis Robotson October 11, 2019 at 8:35 am
Cartesian robots are harder to move than other robots, and some engineers may not want to assemble, align and coordinate the different axes. Managing the control cables for each axis can be tricky, ...
- Smarticle robots built from smaller swarming robotson September 19, 2019 at 4:26 am
Nick Gravish, a doctoral student at Georgia Tech working on a project with the Army Research Laboratory, found that if these heavy duty staples were poured into a box with removable sides, they would ...
- Hyundai shows off exoskeleton robot to help assembly line workerson September 4, 2019 at 2:58 pm
Often, assembly lines call for workers to do their job while reaching over their heads, which can put a strain on the arms, shoulders and other joints. That's where some companies, including Hyundai, ...
- Robots, Assemble! A New Path to Autonomous Mobile 3D Printingon July 21, 2019 at 5:00 pm
As humans develop technologies that advance autonomous robotic manufacturing —especially additive manufacturing and assembly ... carrying mobile robots — can use to print cooperatively in swarms ...
- Lego-like assembly system uses just five parts to assemble complex robotson July 4, 2019 at 9:15 pm
At the conference, the team demonstrated the assembly and deployment ... and connect to each other via a standard connector in a number of configurations. The parts can be assembled into a robot for a ...
- MIT develops tiny ‘walking’ motor that helps more complex robots self-assembleon July 2, 2019 at 8:51 am
Previously, they’ve already shown that other core components can be assembled ... much more sophisticated creation of fully functional robots using only digital blueprints as input. Automated ...
- Robots Can Swim Fetch Lift and Dance—But Can They Assemble an Ikea Chair?on June 10, 2019 at 1:08 am
Robots can now fetch items from specific spots in massive ... with advanced robotic capabilities could produce smart bots that would learn to assemble furniture and do other complex tasks on their own ...
- Researchers develop ‘lifelike’ robots that can grow, self-assemble, and dieon April 24, 2019 at 12:54 am
While the plot may be a science fiction, Cornell University researchers have come closer to achieving that by building nano-robots that mimic humans ... of irreversible biosynthesis and dissipative ...
- Robots will Construct Melike Altınışık' Robot Museum in Seoulon February 19, 2019 at 6:03 am
Robots will assemble the museum’s curved metal façade ... manufacturing to construction and services robots will be in charge. In other words, RSM will start its ‘first exhibition’ with ‘its own ...
- Getting a Better Grip on Reality, Robots Poised for Wider Role on Assembly Lineson January 18, 2019 at 2:30 pm
Omron brought along a few other robots, too. And while not wielding paddles, these less-fawned-over models brought something else to the table -- the kind of elusive human-like dexterity that once ...
via Bing News