Modular Robots are Reshaping Factory Production

Sep 17, 2013

Modular robotic systems offer users the ability to connect or combine with other modules to form a different type of robot. There is a wireless connection that helps the modules collaborate. Further benefits include the fact that modular robots are re-configurable to help create a very versatile system.


Trans­form­ers? Almost! Mod­u­lar robot­ics focus­es on build­ing a sin­gle sec­tion of a robot (called a mod­ule) that can con­nect or com­bine with oth­er mod­ules to form a dif­fer­ent type of robot. The mod­ules com­mu­ni­cate with oth­er mod­ules wire­less­ly, or using infrared or sur­face elec­tri­cal sig­nals. The mod­ules col­lab­o­rate to make the larg­er sec­tion move or change shape. Indus­tries like NASA, the mil­i­tary, search and res­cue, and min­ing are inter­est­ed in fur­ther­ing our knowl­edge and cre­ativ­i­ty of mod­u­lar robots.

Mod­u­lar self-re-con­fig­urable sys­tems are clas­si­fied by the geo­met­ric arrange­ment of their mod­ules. Lat­tice archi­tec­ture sys­tems are con­nect­ed in a reg­u­lar, 3‑D pat­tern. Chain/​tree archi­tec­ture sys­tems are con­nect­ed togeth­er in a string or tree topol­o­gy, allow­ing ver­sa­til­i­ty. Mobile archi­tec­ture sys­tems use the envi­ron­ment to maneu­ver around and hook to form com­plex chains or lattices.

The first suc­cess­ful mod­u­lar robot appeared when AIST and Tokyo Tech built the MTRAN Mark I in 1999. The MTRAN III in 2005 was able to reshape itself to move over dif­fer­ent types of ter­rain, nav­i­gat­ing with prox­im­i­ty and grav­i­ty sen­sors. In the Unit­ed States, the Super­bot made head­lines when it could use its mod­ules to find each oth­er and self assem­ble. The Mod­Snake from Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty has the abil­i­ty to scare peo­ple as it trans­forms itself into a snake and slith­ers around.

Barobo designed the Linkbot, a mod­u­lar robot that can be cus­tomized into any cre­ation the user can dream up. It was cre­at­ed to be an edu­ca­tion­al tool for chil­dren, who are intu­itive­ly able to start work­ing and play­ing with the Linkbot when first encoun­ter­ing it. The Linkbot’s mod­ules snap togeth­er with oth­er mod­ules and con­nect wire­less­ly right out of the box, allow­ing the user to build a pletho­ra of robot types. Snap con­nec­tors or stan­dard screws can be used to attach what­ev­er the user wants to the robot. Hes­i­tant users or begin­ners can use Poseteach mode, which enables the user to pro­gram with their hands on the robot instead of a key­board. Then, the soft­ware con­verts these pos­es into code, so the user can push play and watch the robot imme­di­ate­ly start mov­ing. The Linkbot web­site offers a Gallery for users to upload and share their per­son­al designs with the Linkbot community. 

Mod­u­lar Robot­ics Com­pa­ny designed a robot con­struc­tion kit that allows the user to snap togeth­er Cubelets. Black cubelets are sen­sors, while the col­or­ful cubelets think” by react­ing to the sen­sors. The user’s hand ges­tures con­trol the robot. By build­ing the phys­i­cal robot, the user also builds the brain to have spe­cif­ic behav­iors, like con­struct­ing a robot to chase things, or to stop when it moves to the edge of a table.

The chal­lenge for the future in mod­u­lar robot­ics lies with the num­ber of mod­ules in the sys­tem. Sys­tems with up to 50 units have been demon­strat­ed, but sur­mount­ing this num­ber has proven to be a chal­lenge for a decade. Robots​.com has sys­tems that can inte­grate mul­ti­ple robots to work simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in the same work sta­tion. If you would like to learn more about mod­u­lar or indus­tri­al robots, con­tact us today online or at 8777626881.

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