DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.adh4130 ISSN: 2470-9476

A self-organizing robotic aggregate using solid and liquid-like collective states

Baudouin Saintyves, Matthew Spenko, Heinrich M. Jaeger
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Control and Optimization
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Mechanical Engineering

Designing robotic systems that can change their physical form factor as well as their compliance to adapt to environmental constraints remains a major conceptual and technical challenge. To address this, we introduce the Granulobot, a modular system that blurs the distinction between soft, modular, and swarm robotics. The system consists of gear-like units that each contain a single actuator such that units can self-assemble into larger, granular aggregates using magnetic coupling. These aggregates can reconfigure dynamically and also split into subsystems that might later recombine. Aggregates can self-organize into collective states with solid- and liquid-like properties, thus displaying widely differing compliance. These states can be perturbed locally via actuators or externally via mechanical feedback from the environment to produce adaptive shape-shifting in a decentralized manner. This, in turn, can generate locomotion strategies adapted to different conditions. Aggregates can move over obstacles without using external sensors or coordinates to maintain a steady gait over different surfaces without electronic communication among units. The modular design highlights a physical, morphological form of control that advances the development of resilient robotic systems with the ability to morph and adapt to different functions and conditions.

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