Wei-Min Shen

Director, USC Information Sciences Institute

Early Self-Reconfiguring Modular Robotics
22 minutes, 10.3mb, recorded 2010-05-01
Wei-Min (Weimin) Shen

Explore the exciting advantages of controlling robotic states with hormones. Wei-Min Shen, of the Information Institute of the University of Southern California, discusses Superbots with interviewer Per Sjöborg. He offers wide-ranging speculation and down-to-earth solutions to the challenges of reconfigurable robot design.

Shen traces his career from his start entering playful competitions. There, robots scheduled conferences and autonomously played soccer. Shen recalls how his students' soccer-playing robots accidentally scored for the other team.

Later, Shen and Peter Will were inspired to suggest a project to DARPA where hormones are used to control robots. Reconfigurable bots transform according to their hormonal control state. Robots fly over a desert, reconfigure into rovers, climb sand dunes, and finally they transform into greenhouses. Shen says hormonal controls continue to offer a lot of advantages.

The unique feature of the Superbot is that it offers three degrees of freedom. Robots must be reconfigurable and modular. After four generations of new electronic designs, increasingly complex solutions are possible. Superbots currently offer power-sharing, communication, programmability, extendability, and connectors that do not consume any power unless they are changing state. 

Robots can be tightly packed into a three-dimensional cube, leading to nascent thoughts of crystaline, lattice or mesh structures. In the short term, immediate goals are safety, dust-proofing and water-proofing. To be practical, Shen concludes, robots must be relevant to real world problems.

Wei-Min (Weimin) Shen is the Director of Polymorphic Robotics Laboratory, the Associate Director of the Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems, and a Research Associate Professor in Computer Science at University of Southern California. He received his Ph.D. under Nobel Laureate Professor Herbert A. Simon and co-advisor Professor Jaime Carbonell from Carnegie Mellon University in 1989. His current research interests include self-reconfigurable and metamorphic systems, autonomous robots, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Life Science.


This free podcast is from our Flexible Elements with Per Sjöborg series.

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Photo: Wei-Min (Weimin) Shen