A Modular Robotic System Using Magnetic Force Effectors
journal contributionposted on 01.04.2007, 00:00 by Brian T Kirby, Burak Aksak, Jason D. Campbell, James F. Hoburg, Todd C. Mowry, Padmanabhan Pillai, Seth C. Goldstein
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 , 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  or telescoping mechanism  within each module to facilitate self-reconfiguration.