In the robotics lab of Juan González Gómez his modular snakes have acquired new gates (styles of moving) that include rotating, rolling, turning, moving forward and moving backward. Rolling is especially important because if the robot encounters difficult terrain and falls, it can recover itself. Some gates are also more compatible with cameras, useful if the goal is to have video transmitted back to the base. Gómez has also calculated the exact minimum number of modules you need for performing locomotion in three-dimensions. Beyond practical considerations, Per finds the striking side-winding motion very beautiful.
Self-reconfigurable snake robots are amazing. The gates are emergent patterns. For programming locomotion of modular snake robots you only need to calculate three patterns needed to make the modules oscillate. You just need to calculate the amplitude, frequency and phase difference. Differences in these three simple factors create new styles of locomotion, or gates.
Future applications Gómez sees are “search and rescue” where robots can detect people in need of assistance. You can take risks with these robots that you might not take with humans or even dogs. His current work includes new sensors and simplified processors for use in the field. As modules become smaller, he hopes they can become building blocks of larger artifacts.
One of the striking features of Juan González Gómez work is his commitment to the free and open-source model, using the GPL as a framework. The plans for all these robot modules are available at Gomez’s site. There are parts that can be printed cheaply, if you have a three-dimensional printer. Circuit controller boards and other supplies can be very cheap. In the spirit of the open-source community, Per suggested that listeners and other users of this project might jump in and help Gómez with translation and documentation.
Juan González Gómez completed his dissertation about modular robotics and locomotion capabilities of modular robots in 2008. He has his PhD in Robotics from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. Today he is Visiting Professor at the University Carlos III of Madrid, in the Department of Systems Engineering and Automation.
This free podcast is from our Flexible Elements with Per Sjöborg series.
Photo: Juan González Gómez