Self-Reconfiguring Robots Modules Algorithm

The next step is to investigate the use of reconfiguration in other algorithmic applications after the basic reconfiguration problem is solved. One such class of algorithmic questions deals with resource utilization.

Heterogeneous systems allow specialized modules for communications, mobility, power, computation, or other resources. How these resources should best be distributed for various tasks is an interesting problem. For example, in a manipulation task it may be desirable to move a dedicated power module close to the task through reconfiguration. Another example is sensor deployment. Sensor modules should be carried in the volume of the robot for locomotion, and deployed to the surface for use. A related task would be to store wheel modules in the body of a legged configuration, and to deploy the wheels when wheeled locomotion was possible. The application-level question is how to best use this capability, assuming a solution to the problem of reconfiguration with uniquely identified modules. Specifically, the research issue is to determine a target configuration that optimizes placement of power, sensor, or other specialized modules to best suit the task.

SR modules are used another application involves the problem of constructing rigid structures. Often a SR robot requires structural rigidity, but it is difficult to construct connectors with desirable connection and disconnection properties that can withstand much torque. Power and weight available to a module are both severely limited, so connectors must use small efficient actuators. The result is that current connectors have serious problems with rigidity. A line of Crystal modules, for example, can deform to a great degree.

Any algorithms we design should be implemented and simulated in software. The challenge for heterogeneous systems is to build simulators to represent the varieties of modules. In hardware, building a heterogeneous system by adding sensors or communication to a homogeneous system is an easy strategy. It would also be interesting to construct modules of different shapes. Demonstrating general reconfiguration in hardware remains a significant goal. Overall, the research goal here is to build a suitable software simulator to test our algorithms, and to perform hardware experiments where possible.

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