Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

September 5th, 2014

Robots: M-Blocks

In this episode, Audrow Nash interviews John Romanishin from MIT, about his modular robotics project ‘M-Blocks’. M-Blocks are small cubes (5 cm on a side) that have no external actuators, yet they manage to move and even jump. They do this by rotating an internal mass at high speeds then stopping that mass suddenly, which transfers inertia to the cube causing it to move. The rotating mass can change which plane it’s spinning in allowing the cube to move in any direction.  By combining this inertial actuator with permanent magnets, M-Blocks can move over similar robots (or more M-Blocks) and precisely line up. The future of this project is best put by John, who says, “We want hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand.” 

John Romanishin
john-romanishinJohn Romanishin is currently a graduate student studying mechanical engineering and researching self-reconfigurable modular robots at the Distributed Robotics Laboratory led by Daniela Rus at MIT.


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February 24th, 2012

Robots: Self-Organizing Systems

In today’s episode we focus on self-organizing systems in modular and swarm robotics with Radhika Nagpal, director of the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

Radhika Nagpal

Whether you’re looking at multicellular organisms or social insects such as ants and termites, nature has found powerful ways to make systems self-organize. In these collectives, individuals that are typically simple, unreliable, and limited, cooperate through local interactions to achieve complex behaviors.

Radhika Nagpal has been building on these principles to make modular and swarm robots that are able to work together in a decentralized manner. She tells us about a self-balancing modular table that is able to adapt to terrain while balancing your cup of coffee. In the TERMES project, robots work together to build the environment in which they evolve, creating the very staircase that will allow them to build a structure. We also look at how her group has made large-scale swarm robotics a reality with the kilobot project and its 1024 quarter-sized robots previously featured on our podcast.

Finally, Nagpal tells us about how her insights in mathematics and the theory of self-organization can also help us learn something about biological systems.


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November 18th, 2011

Robots: Connectors & Modular Robots

In today’s show we hear from our new collaborator, Per Sjoborg who is the founder of Flexibility Envelope, a blog on self-reconfiguring modular robotics. He speaks to Martin Nilsson from the Swedish Institute of Computer Science about his experience in making snake robots and connectors for modular robots.

Martin Nilsson

Martin Nilsson is Associate Professor at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science.

He presents his work on self-reconfigurable modular robots done as part of the DRAGON (Distributed Real-time Autonomously Guided OrgaNisms) project. His snake inspired robot is composed of a set of modules and DRAGON joints that enable the robot to physically connect and disconnect, share energy and communicate. He tells us about challenges in building such a robot, including making smart mechanical docking systems, integrating all the functional requirements of a joint in a single mobile structure, and using Model Predictive Control to generate robot motion.

In his current work, Nilsson is focussing on integration sensor readings to obtain precise motor control. As inspiration, and in collaboration with Neurophysiologists, he looks at how the cerebellum is able to fuse proprioceptive sensing and touch to achieve precise motions in humans.


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August 27th, 2010

Robots: Programmable Matter

In this episode we dive into the world of programmable matter with Michael Tolley and Jonas Neubert from the Computational Synthesis Laboratory run by Hod Lipson at Cornell University, NY. They present their amazing hardware and control to stochastically assemble matter in fluid.

Michael Tolley

Michael Tolley is finishing his PhD under the supervision of Hod Lipson at Cornell University.

Imagine being able to throw a hand-full of smart matter in a tank full of liquid and then pulling out a ready-to-use wrench once the matter has assembled. As a first step in this direction, Tolley has been looking at how smart cubes can assemble into physical objects in fluids. The interest in using fluid stems from the fact that modules, transported by the flows in their environment, do not need any power or motors. The shapes and latching mechanisms on his cubes, whether on the micro- or centimeter- scale, were smartly designed to enable autonomous alignment and connection. In the end, his approach at building smart matter follows the idea of embodied AI where the intelligence of the robot is embedded in its physical body and its interactions with the environment.

Beyond hardware, Tolley has been looking at controlling such stochastic systems by changing the flows in the tanks to assemble 2D and 3D structures and even repair objects when a part has been broken off. For this purpose, he’s been working on a Programmable Matter Simulator to investigate the possibilities to harness random motion.

Jonas Neubert

Jonas Neubert is also doing his PhD at Hod Lipson’s lab.

As opposed to Tolley, he is looking at making active modules that can compute, connect to neighbors, communicate and open and close valves to direct liquid flows. His setup, presented at ICRA this year is very far from the classical screws and blots used in robotics. Indeed, connections are made by autonomously soldering and desoldering blocks… in liquid. In another original development, valving is done by heating the surrounding fluid which then reacts by becoming a gel and blocking the flow.

Neubert covers all the neat technical developments in his system and the challenges in making electronics that operate in liquid.


Latest News:
For videos of this week’s Robots news, including the Surena 2 humanoid robot and the prosthetic arm controlled by thought, have a look at the Robots Forum.

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