Infoscience

Thesis

Roombots: Design and Implementation of a Modular Robot for Reconfiguration and Locomotion

In this thesis we present the design and implementation of a novel self-reconfiguring modular (SR-MR) robotic system: Roombots. We are aiming at three main applications with Roombots; locomotion through self-reconfiguration in the regular cubic 3D-lattice on structured surfaces, locomotion in non-structured environments applying central pattern generators (CPG) as the locomotion controller, and self-assembly and reconfiguration of static objects of the day-to-day environment, such as furniture. Robot assemblies from self-reconfigurable modular robots have the ability to adapt to a given task and working environment by altering their shape through a series of reconfiguration moves, and attachments and detachments between the modules. We are interested in self-reconfiguring modular robots for their shape-changing capabilities, and their distributed characteristics. We envision the following applications for Roombots: First, self-reconfiguration in a structured 3D lattice, i.e. a floor and walls equipped with connectors. Embedded connectors can provide pivot points for locomotion of SR-MR assemblies, and docking and recharging places for our adaptive furniture pieces. Second, our proposed concept for locomotion control of modular robots on non-structured ground are central pattern generators. Third, we would like to build adaptive and versatile furniture from modular robots and light-weight elements. In the following we are able to count more than 60 modular robotic systems, developed over the last two decades. However we were unable to identify an existing system which could provide us with all desired kinematic and geometric capabilities. This led us to design and implement a novel self-reconfiguring modular robotic system: Roombots. To tackle the module design we attempt to identify both meaningful design parameters from existing modular robots, and essential features for our applications. The combination of both leads to the kinematic and geometric description of the Roombots modules, and eventually to its implementation. In order to be able to assemble furniture from our Roombots units in the future, we need a reconfiguration framework which supports the specific requirements of Roombots. Metamodules made of two units attached in-series are attracted and guided by a virtual force-field, they use broadcast signals, look-up tables of collision clouds and simple assumptions about their near environment to reach their seeding positions, which are currently hand coded. For the task of locomotion in non-structured environments we propose a framework for learning to move with modular robots using central pattern generators and online optimization. The distributed implementation of CPGs offers an ideal substrate for producing locomotion patterns and for online learning, and an optimization framework for fast learning.

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