SMORES Robot Finds Its Own Way To The Campfire

Robots that can dynamically reconfigure themselves to adapt to their environments offer a promising advantage over their less dynamic cousins. Researchers have been working through all the challenges of realizing that potential: hardware, software, and all the interactions in between. On the software end of the spectrum, a team at University of Pennsylvania’s ModLab has been working on a robot that can autonomously choose a configuration to best fit its task at hand.

We’ve recently done an overview of modular robots, and we noted that coordination and control are persistent challenges in this area. The robot in this particular demonstration is a hybrid: a fixed core module serving as central command, plus six of the lab’s dynamic SMORES-EP modules. The core module has a RGB+Depth camera for awareness of its environment. A separate downwards-looking camera watches SMORES modules for awareness of itself.

Combining that data using a mix of open robot research software and new machine specific code, this team’s creation autonomously navigates an unfamiliar test environment. While it can adapt to specific terrain challenges like a wood staircase, there are still limitations on situations it can handle. Kudos to the researchers for honestly showing and explaining how the robot can get stuck on a ground seam, instead of editing that gaffe out to cover it up.

While this robot isn’t the completely decentralized modular robot system some are aiming for, it would be a mistake to dismiss based on that criticism alone. At the very least, it is an instructive step on the journey offering a tradeoff that’s useful on its own merits. And perhaps this hybrid approach will find application with a modular robot close to our hearts: Dtto, the winner of our 2016 Hackaday Prize.

[via Science News]

Continue reading “SMORES Robot Finds Its Own Way To The Campfire”

UAV Coaxial Copter Uses Unique Drive Mechanism

Personal UAV’s are becoming ubiquitous these days, but there is still much room for improvement. Researchers at [Modlab] understand this, and they’ve come up with a very unique method of controlling pitch, yaw, and roll for a coaxial ‘copter using only the two drive motors.

In order to control all of these variables with only two motors, you generally need a mechanism that adjusts the pitch of the propeller blades. Usually this is done by mounting a couple of tiny servos to the ‘copter. The servos are hooked up to the propellers with mechanical linkages so the pitch of the propellers can be adjusted on the fly. This works fine but it’s costly, complicated, and adds weight to the vehicle.

[Modlab’s] system does away with the linkages and extra servos. They are able to control the pitch of their propellers using just the two drive motors. The propellers are connected to the motors using a custom 3D printed rotor hub. This hub is specifically designed to couple blade lead-and-lag oscillations to a change in blade pitch. Rather than drive the motors with a constant amount of torque, [Modlab] adds a sinusoidal component in phase with the current speed of the motor. This allows the system to adjust the pitch of the blades multiple times per rotation, even at these high speeds.

Be sure to watch the demonstration video below. Continue reading “UAV Coaxial Copter Uses Unique Drive Mechanism”