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Programming matter by folding: Shape-shifting robots

Programming matter by folding: Shape-shifting robots | Social Foraging | Scoop.it
Self-folding sheets of a plastic-like material point the way to robots that can assume any conceivable 3-D structure.

 

Programmable matter is a material whose properties can be programmed to achieve specific shapes or stiffnesses upon command. This concept requires constituent elements to interact and rearrange intelligently in order to meet the goal. This research considers achieving programmable sheets that can form themselves in different shapes autonomously by folding. Past approaches to creating transforming machines have been limited by the small feature sizes, the large number of components, and the associated complexity of communication among the units. We seek to mitigate these difficulties through the unique concept of self-folding origami with universal crease patterns.


This approach exploits a single sheet composed of interconnected triangular sections. The sheet is able to fold into a set of predetermined shapes using embedded actuation. To implement this self-folding origami concept, we have developed a scalable end-to-end planning and fabrication process. Given a set of desired objects, the system computes an optimized design for a single sheet and multiple controllers to achieve each of the desired objects. The material, called programmable matter by folding, is an example of a system capable of achieving multiple shapes for multiple functions.


As director of the Distributed Robotics Laboratory at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Professor Daniela Rus researches systems of robots that can work together to tackle complicated tasks. One of the big research areas in distributed robotics is what’s called “programmable matter,” the idea that small, uniform robots could snap together like intelligent Legos to create larger, more versatile robots.

 

The U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a Programmable Matter project that funds a good deal of research in the field and specifies “particles … which can reversibly assemble into complex 3D objects.” But that approach turns out to have drawbacks, Rus says. “Most people are looking at separate modules, and they’re really worried about how these separate modules aggregate themselves and find other modules to connect with to create the shape that they’re supposed to create,” Rus says. But, she adds, “actively gathering modules to build up a shape bottom-up, from scratch, is just really hard given the current state of the art in our hardware.”

 

So Rus has been investigating alternative approaches, which don’t require separate modules to locate and connect to each other before beginning to assemble more complex shapes. Fortunately, also at CSAIL is Erik Demaine, who joined the MIT faculty at age 20 in 2001, becoming the youngest professor in MIT history. One of Demaine’s research areas is the mathematics of origami, and he and Rus hatched the idea of a flat sheet of material with tiny robotic muscles, or actuators, which could fold itself into useful objects. In principle, flat sheets with flat actuators should be much easier to fabricate than three-dimensional robots with enough intelligence that they can locate and attach to each other.


So they designed yet another set of algorithms that, given sequences of folds for several different shapes, would determine the minimum number of actuators necessary to produce all of them. Then they set about building a robot that could actually assume multiple origami shapes. Their prototype, made from glass-fiber and hydrocarbon materials, with an elastic plastic at the creases, is divided into 16 squares about a centimeter across, each of which is further divided into two triangles. The actuators consist of a shape-memory alloy — a metal that changes shape when electricity is applied to it. Each triangle also has a magnet in it, so that it can attach to its neighbors once the right folds have been performed.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Keith Wayne Brown's curator insight, June 2, 9:04 PM

Transformers--more than meets the eye!

Tekrighter's curator insight, June 3, 8:30 AM

Awesome! This is right up there with 3-D printing as the technological advance of the decade...

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Robot Octopus Shows Off New Sculls

Robot Octopus Shows Off New Sculls | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

"Octopi are pro swimmers, thanks (at least in part) to that octet of arms they've got going on. They've adopted a particular swimming gait called sculling, which works great for them, but until they start publishing scientific papers, we're missing out on all of their gait testing data. Roboticists have had to start from scratch, and along the way, they've experimented with some swimming gaits that we've never seen a real octopus try and pull off."


Via Miguel Prazeres
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Roboticists Discover the Secret of Insect Flight, and it's Not Wings

Roboticists Discover the Secret of Insect Flight, and it's Not Wings | Social Foraging | Scoop.it
When it comes to insect flight, we usually only think about how the insect's wings contribute to aerial stability. But scientists have now discovered that the abdominal movements of some insects also play a large role in flight control, particularly when hovering — a finding that could lead to improved aerial drones.

Via Miguel Prazeres
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Rise Of The Insect Drones

Rise Of The Insect Drones | Social Foraging | Scoop.it
Nature spent millions of years perfecting flapping-wing flight. Now engineers can reproduce it with machines.

Via Miguel Prazeres
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The Evolution of the Bioinspired Robot

The Evolution of the Bioinspired Robot | Social Foraging | Scoop.it
To build a better robot, engineers are turning to an experienced problem solver—nature.

Via Miguel Prazeres
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Plant-mimicking Robots Could Help Explore Our World

Plant-mimicking Robots Could Help Explore Our World | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

"In the world of biomimicry, plants haven't necessarily been overlooked, but compared to animals -- especially in robotics -- there have been far fewer projects inspired by them. That's why it's neat to read about a project that revolves completely around finding ways to build robots that mimic plants, in particular their roots."


Via Miguel Prazeres
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Fish Robots Search for Pollution in the Waters

Fish Robots Search for Pollution in the Waters | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

"A number of robotic fish are going to be used in an experiment in the port of Gijon in Spain in order to evaluate how effectively and cost-efficiently they can detect water pollution. The carp-shaped robots are part of a three-year research project of Huosheng Hu and his robotics team at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex. The robot fish could be used to inspect rivers, lakes and seas. The life-like creatures, which mimic the undulating movement of real fish, are 1.5 meters (5 feet) long and will be equipped with tiny chemical sensors. These sensors are used to find sources of potentially hazardous pollutants in the water, such as leaks from vessels in the port or underwater pipelines. When they recharge their batteries via a “charging hub” they will be able to transmit the information to the port’s control center. This will enable the authorities to map the source and scale of the pollution virtually in real time."


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E-Whiskers Have Arrived to Fulfill All Your Robot Cat Dreams

E-Whiskers Have Arrived to Fulfill All Your Robot Cat Dreams | Social Foraging | Scoop.it
Sensitive electronic whiskers pave the way for increased interaction between robots and their external environments.

Via Miguel Prazeres
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Bee Flight Inspires Robot Design

Bee Flight Inspires Robot Design | Social Foraging | Scoop.it
Footage of bumblebees flying in a wind tunnel reveals how the insects manage in adverse weather, a discovery that could aid the design of flying robots.

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Thirteenth International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (Alife XIII)

Thirteenth International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (Alife XIII) | Social Foraging | Scoop.it

The Thirteenth International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems will be held July 19-22, 2012 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, USA.


Via Complexity Digest
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