If An Autonomous Robot Can Repair Itself

A Useful Autonomous Robot.

If robots are to be used for space exploration or god help us, military purposes they are going to have to durable, reliable and able to take a hit and get back up. Today’s robots are not this way as you can imagine. In fact there are very few prototype robots that can even move under their own power let alone able to fix themselves after being damaged.

DARPA which is the not so secret, secret research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, has developed several different models of self powered, ambulating robots.

For the not to distant mission to Mars, such robots would come in very handy to say the least. In fact maybe we are better off not sending any people at all? NASA engineers have developed their own space robot named Valkyrie.

 Valkyrie as a robotic helper to human astronauts.

Valkyrie as a autonomous robot helper to human astronauts.

Now if these robots could self repair themselves possibly tax payers would be more eager to put up the enormous sums of money needed for such a venture. If a million dollar robot suddenly breaks a leg on Mars, there may not be a robot engineer around to help. NASA very maco looking robot which has been under development for over a decade is looking more and more space ready don’t you think?

Researchers at Tohoku University and Hokkaido University have, for the first time, succeeded in developing a robot capable of immediately adapting to unexpected physical damage.

This is a significant breakthrough as robots are increasingly expected to function in tough environments under hazardous conditions.

Unconventional autonomous robots.

Conventional robots tend to require a considerable amount of time (several tens of seconds) to adapt when they incur unexpected physical damage. To address this problem, researchers led by Professor Akio Ishiguro of the Research Institute of Electrical Communication at Tohoku University, focused on a brittle star which is a primitive echinoderm with five flexible arms. Brittle stars lack a sophisticated central nervous system, yet are able to immediately adapt to an arbitrary loss of their arms and still move by coordinating the remaining arms.

Biological models for new robots

Based on behavioral experiments involving brittle stars whose arms were amputated in various ways, the researchers proposed a simple decentralized control mechanism in which each arm kicks the ground only when it obtains an assistive reaction force. This mechanism was implemented in a brittle star-like robot to demonstrate that it can adapt to unexpected physical damage within a few seconds, like its biological model.

The researchers hope that this finding will help develop resilient robots that can work in inhospitable environments such as disaster areas. It also provides insights into the essential mechanism underlying resilient animal locomotion.

(a) Overview of a brittle star (left) and photographs of locomotion when it lost one of its arms (right). (b) Overview of the brittle star-like robot PENTABOT II (left) and photographs of locomotion when one of the arms was destroyed (right). The robot could keep moving by coordinating the remaining arms appropriately.

Schematic of the proposed control scheme. First, each arm moves randomly to obtain a response from the environment. If the reaction force assists propulsion, the arm pushes itself against the ground, after which the arm lifts off from the ground and moves forward. When the reaction force impedes propulsion, no further action is generated.

CREDIT Ishiguro-Kano Laboratory

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If An Autonomous Robot Can Repair Itself

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