Knowable Magazine Q&A with Mark Yim: “Robots Designed to Self-Construct”

Penn Engineering
Feb 7 · 2 min read
The SMORES-EP system, or Self-Assembling Modular Robots for Extreme Shapeshifting, is a product of Yim’s ModLab, which explores how robots can adapt to their surroundings and solve problems for which they weren’t explicitly programmed.

Last year, Mark Yim, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics and director of the GRASP Lab, co-authored a report on “Modular Reconfigurable Robotics” in the Annual Review of Control, Robotics, and Autonomous Systems. Modular robots, like his lab’s SMORES-EP, can reconfigure themselves into different shapes, allowing them to tackle environments and tasks that their designers can’t necessarily plan for.

Knowable Magazine’s John Wenz recently spoke with Yim about the present and future of this approach to robotics:

Wenz: What are modular reconfigurable robots?

Yim: LEGO is one analogy that people often use. LEGO bricks are modular and can be rearranged in lots of different ways, so that would be kind of like the modular reconfigurable robots, except these would be LEGO bricks that can rearrange themselves. Very often there will be one type of module, with hundreds of identical units; the reconfiguring of those modules is a big part of the research.

Another analogy comes from the very first modular robotics paper in 1988, when Toshio Fukuda and his colleagues in Japan had this idea called CEBOTS, or cellular robotic systems. The idea was that you have different cells in your body. Similarly, you could have robots that could come together and have a whole organism.

If you are not among that particular community, modular reconfigurable robots can be a little bit broader. In the Annual Reviews article, we talked about a typical standard milling machine where we have different types of tools that go into it. It’s modular in the sense that these tools can be swapped out, but they’re not identical. It’s a very different type of thing.

Continue reading Wenz’ Q&A at Knowable Magazine

Penn Engineering

University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science

Penn Engineering

Written by

Penn Engineering

University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science

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