Robotic Aggregates

Designing robotic systems that can change their physical form factor as well as their compliance to adapt to environmental constraints remains a major conceptual and technical challenge. To address this, we introduce the Granulobot, a modular system that blurs the distinction between soft, modular, and swarm robotics. The system consists of gear-like units that each contain a single actuator such that units can self-assemble into larger, granular aggregates using magnetic coupling. These aggregates can reconfigure dynamically and also split into subsystems that might later recombine. Aggregates can self-organize into collective states with solid- and liquid-like properties, thus displaying widely differing compliance. These states can be perturbed locally via actuators or externally via mechanical feedback from the environment to produce adaptive shape shifting in a decentralized manner. This in turn can generate locomotion strategies adapted to different conditions. Aggregates can move over obstacles without using external sensors or coordinate to maintain a steady gait over different surfaces without electronic communication among units. The modular design highlights a physical, morphological form of control that advances the development of resilient robotic systems with the ability to morph and adapt to different functions and conditions. 

Baudouin Saintyves, Matthew Spenko, Heinrich M. Jaeger. "A self-organizing robotic aggregate using solid and liquid-like collective states." Science Robotics (2024). linkCommentary focus “Robot swarms meet soft matter physics” by D. Goldman and D. Z. Rocklin. link. UChicago press release