Hackaday Prize Entry: Dtto Modular Robot

A robot to explore the unknown and automate tomorrow’s tasks and the ones after them needs to be extremely versatile. Ideally, it was capable of being any size, any shape, and any functionality, shapeless like water, flexible and smart. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Alberto] is building such a modular, self-reconfiguring robot: Dtto.

ditto_family To achieve the highest possible reconfigurability, [Alberto’s] robot is designed to be the building block of a larger, mechanical organism. Inspired by the similar MTRAN III, individual robots feature two actuated hinges that give them flexibility and the ability to move on their own. A coupling mechanism on both ends of the robot allows the little crawlers to self-assemble in various configurations and carry out complex tasks together. They can chain together to form a snake, turn into a wheel and even become four (or more) legged walkers. With six coupling faces on each robot, that allow for connections in four orientations, virtually any topology is possible.

Each robot contains two strong servos for the hinges and three smaller ones for the coupling mechanism. Alignment magnets help the robots to index against each other before a latch locks them in place. The clever mechanism doubles as an ejector, so connections can be undone against the force of the alignment magnets. Most of the electronics, including an Arduino Nano, a Bluetooth and a NRF24L01+ module, are densely mounted inside one end of the robot, while the other end can be used to add additional features, such as a camera module, an accelerometer and more. The following video shows four Dtto robots in a snake configuration crawling through a tube.

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Machine Metabolism: Structure-Reconfiguring Robots

truss reconfiguring robot

It might be difficult to tell from the picture, but you’re looking at a robot that is capable of building and disassembling simple truss structures. We’ll let that sink in for a moment.

[Jeremy Blum] finished his metabolic machine research back in 2011, but just this month has had his journal paper published in the IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine on Structure-Reconfiguring Robots.

The concept behind this robot is biological metabolism – the ability to break down nutrients into building blocks, and then to use them to build new things. What if we could build a robot to emulate this most basic aspect of biology? Well, they have. Take a moment to imagine the implications in space: a fully automated deployment (or repair) of large structures. Or back on earth, large radio towers that are automatically assembled, welded, and even repaired if need be. The possibilities are amazing.

To see the Structure-Reconfiguring Robot in action and to learn a bit more about how it works, check out the video after the break.

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