This New Class Of Robots Can Self Assemble On Demand

The only furniture you'll need in the future will be a swarm of tiny robots that will work together to create whatever you want.

A group of researchers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s (EPFL) Swiss Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob) have built a new sort of robot, and it is quite the sight to behold! These new robots, named Roombots, are modular shape-changing machines that can be reconfigured in three dimensions. They have even been compared to robotic LEGOs by some. These bots can self-assemble and self-transform into a variety of various pieces of furniture. Additionally, they can also move about and self-assemble on demand. They are constructed with two dice that have been glued together, a battery, three motors that drive the movement, and a wireless connection. This is a Swiss NCCR in Robotics-funded project which investigates the design and operation of Roombots. 

Self-Reconfiguring Modular Robot

Modular robots are made up of numerous simple robotic modules that may be connected and detached. Modular self-reconfiguring robotic systems, alternatively referred to as self-reconfigurable modular robots, are self-configuring kinematic machines with variable morphology. Apart from the standard actuation, sensing, and control present in fixed-morphology robots, self-reconfiguring robots can also modify their shape purposefully by rearranging the connectivity of their components in order to adapt to new situations, perform new tasks, or recover from injury.

Functionalities of Roombot

The Roombot is a modular robot consisting of numerous connectors and a central hinge. They may self-assemble to become a variety of various pieces of furniture and are capable of autonomous movement. Each module is 22cm in length, and the team envisions that ten of them may be combined to create a diverse selection of furniture. Active Connection Mechanisms (ACMs) establish a connection with the target connector via mechanical latches. ACMs from Roombots are hermaphrodite, which means that both male and female components are connected using the same connector. This means that each ACM is capable of communicating with any other ACM. Additionally, ACMs are compatible with passive ports, which are essentially female connectors.

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Each module is completely self-contained and equipped with its own set of control boards and batteries. The high-level commands are coordinated by a central host that is capable of communicating with each module individually. Similarly, each module is capable of controlling its own locomotion via a set of settings. An external computer performs the high-level control (i.e. motion planning). The modules and the PC communicate via a wireless Bluetooth link. A rendered image of a Roombots module assembling a table utilising lightweight parts and integrated Roombots modules:

Source: Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL

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How does Roombot communicate?

The Communication Board (BT) utilises a cable communication bus to convey received orders and control parameter sets to the other electronic boards. Electronic slip rings (SR) enable the bus signal to be distributed to either hemisphere. Motor Boards (MB) are capable of receiving locomotion commands and are in charge of low-level control of DC motors as well as the operation of a central pattern generator controller. Three motor boards are included, one for each actuator. Each active connector is fitted with an ACM Control Board (ACM) that regulates the mechanical latches’ opening and closing.

A portion of the Roombots project’s current effort is to determine the capabilities of a swarm of Roombots modules through physical testing and to determine whether adding some tools to the otherwise homogeneous module swarm could enable meaningful additional capabilities. The most audacious is perhaps object manipulation, which presents a significant barrier for robots of this type. The EPFL researchers combined a small jamming gripper into a single hemisphere of such a Roombots module, enabling it to pick up the majority of small, stiff objects within its reach. 


It is also worth noting that despite their ability to self-assemble into tables and seats, the present version of Roombots can’t actually sustain that much weight, and so sitting in a Roombots chair would likely smash it. Roombots’ transition to real-world applications would almost certainly require a new redesign, and the researchers are already considering modifications like vision systems, distributed control, and even an “artificial skin” for safe human interaction. It is important to foresee potential robotics. There is a list of some of the books on artificial intelligence and robotics that one should read before embarking on a project.

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by Vijayalakshmi Anandan

The Deep Learning Curve is a technology-based podcast hosted by Vijayalakshmi Anandan - Video Presenter and Podcaster at Analytics India Magazine. This podcast is the narrator's journey of curiosity and discovery in the world of technology.

Dr. Nivash Jeevanandam
Nivash holds a doctorate in information technology and has been a research associate at a university and a development engineer in the IT industry. Data science and machine learning excite him.

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