Flexible Elements with Per Sjoborg
The Flexible Elements podcast focuses on anything and everything
related to an area within robotics called self-reconfiguring modular
In short, it is all about modules, basically Lego pieces, that can
assemble themselves into anything!
This might sound too much like sci-fi, but it is actually a vibrant
research community making great progress towards introducing a truly
amazing thing: a Universal Machine. Like the computer, that is a
Universal Computing Machine, this Universal Physical Machine can
simulate any physical machine or structure.
We all know, and live with, the changes brought by the universal
computing machine, the computer, so it is probably safe to say that
the creation of a universal physical machine will be just as
important. And that is why this podcast focuses on this area, and will
cover all the amazing possibilities this will generate.
Some of the possibilities with SRCMR:
- Flexibility, just bring a number of modules and they can become
whatever you need whenever you need it
- Robustness, self-healing will mean that if one module breaks it
will be replaced, and you will hardly notice it
- Cheap solutions to any particular problem, for many reasons a SRCMR
solution to a problem will be incredibly cheap
- Environmentally friendly at a totally new level, because of the
introduction of re-assignment and increased possibilities for re-use
The podcast mainly consists of interviews with the leading researchers
and thinkers in the field. The researchers speak about the many of
problems and challenges, how they tackle them and what progress they
are making. There is also discussion about the changes SRCMR will
bring, and which of the many issues the world is facing to day it can
help to address, like environmental ones for instance. There are also
reports from events and news related to SRCMR.
And don't forget to drop Per a note if you have anything interesting
to share or a suggestion for future interviews!
For robotics to become ubiquitous, the key is a simple efficient connector. Organic chemistry is a simple self-reconfiguring process which inspired Tom Larkworthy to emulate it in self-reconfigurable robots. Larkworthy's pragmatic work focuses on a lattice arrangement, a hexagonal metamorphical robot with a simple set of local motion constraints. Per Sjöborg and Larkworthy discuss how gender, simplicity and limits contribute to efficiency in self-reconfigurable robots.
The fundamental problem of knowing how to apply knowledge is the focus, as Prof. Subramanian Ramamoorthy studies how agents transfer skills from one situation to another. Ramamoorthy constrains each agent's environment, limiting interaction to a handful of other agents, so that agents can act with greater autonomy. Host Per Sjöborg enjoys a freewheeling discussion of Ramamoorthy's career and his groundbreaking work with abstract learning in modular robotic agents.
A strut-based deforming system underlies the Odin system of self-reconfiguring modular robotics discussed by Andreas Lyder. In this audio interview, Lyder shows how different systems, such as Odin, M-Tran and Thor, offer different advantages to his colleagues as they research self-reconfiguring modular robotics. Odin provides fast, high-resolution actuation. In the Thor system, each unit has a different function.
Victor Kuo talks about how he has developed radio communication that can handle many transmitters sending at the same time. He has focused on the crosstalk problem, which was a major obstacle to using radios for module to module communication. Parallel wireless radio communication architecture will be a very powerful tool because it can handle the communication in a range of distances from global communication to near distance. This method can also could be used to communicate when the modules are connected.
Rotating, rolling, turning, moving forward and moving backward are all impressive gates for modular snake robots, but Per Sjoborg says the striking side-winding motion can only be described as beautiful. These complex patterns of locomotion emerge from simple fluctuations in oscillation. Beyond aesthetics and practical applications, one of the most striking features of Juan Gonzalez Gomez's work is his commitment to the free and open-source development model. He believes that the modular robotic community will emerge to solve problems together.
A flash at 3 AM inspired Wei-Min Shen and Peter Will to use life-like hormones to control robot transformations. Years later, Wei-Min Shen is still learning new advantages of such a novel life-science approach to robotic control. In this interview, Per Sjoborg asks Wei-Min Shen how he defines three-degrees of freedom for his reconfigurable robots, how far Shen's blue-sky dreams reach and how to achieve his practical goals. In this fun exchange, Sjoborg explores the nitty-gritty problems of keeping robots clean, dry and safe before aiming for loftier goals.
Modular self-healing self-directing robots that can work together independently to achieve tasks... This sounds like something out of a Science Fiction film. Per Sjoborg talks with Dr. Chih-Han Yu of the Computer Science department at Harvard University about ground-breaking work inspired by biology. Dr. Yu discusses his work with mechanical locomotion and artificial intelligence, the future of robotics research, and experimental methods of building robots that can cope with uncertainty.
Self-assembling robotic gastric surgeons, small enough to swallow, will requires advances in magnetic connectors to become a reality. Zoltan Nagy researches tiny magnetic connectors. His goal is to create self-reconfiguring modular robotics (SRCMR) which are robust enough for surgery within the human body. Zoltan outlines his plans for future research. Learn how he communicates with these tiny robots as they perform delicate surgery in working prototypes of the human stomach.
Kyle Gilpin talks about his work with electropermanent magnets, which make excellent connectors for modular robots as they are strong, small, solid state, consume power only when connecting or disconnecting, and they can also handle communication and power transfer. Kyle also discusses how he
used electropermanent magnets to build a 12 mm cube robot pebble.
One of the big challenges in Self Re-Configuring Modular Robotics is to handle the large number of robots that are involved. Controlling thousands of robots is hard, and doing so reliably and efficiently is even harder. Michael Rubenstein talks about building, managing and controlling 1024 robots. He talks about the many challenges the sheer number of robots leads to and how you can handle them.