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A Modular Robotic System Using Magnetic Force Effectors



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A Modular Robotic System Using Magnetic Force Effectors Brian T Kirby Burak Aksak Jason D Campbell James F Hoburg Todd C Mowry Padmanabhan Pillai Seth Copen Goldstein Abstract One of the primary impediments to building ensembles of modular robots is the complexity and number of mechanical mechanisms used to construct the individual modules As part of the Claytronics project which aims to build very large ensembles of modular robots we investigate how to simplify each module by eliminating moving parts and reducing the number of mechanical mechanisms on each robot by using force at a distance actuators Additionally we are also investigating the feasibility of using these unary actuators to improve docking performance implement intermodule adhesion power transfer communication and sensing In this paper we describe our most recent results in the magnetic domain including our first design sufficiently robust to operate reliably in groups greater than two modules Our work should be seen as an extension of systems such as Fracta 9 and a contrasting line of inquiry to several other researchers prior efforts that have used magnetic latching to attach modules to one another but relied upon a powered hinge 10 or telescoping mechanism 12 within each module to facilitate self reconfiguration I I NTRODUCTION Advances in manufacturing and electronics open up new possibilities for designing modular robotic systems As the robots become smaller it becomes possible to use force at adistance actuators e g actuators which cause one module to move relative to another via magnetic or electric fields external to the modules themselves Furthermore as the cost and power consumption of electronics continue to decrease it becomes increasingly attractive to use complex electronics rather than complex mechanical systems In this paper we explore how a single device that exploits magnetic forces can be harnessed to unify actuation adhesion power transfer communication and sensing By combining a



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