Robotics/Exotic Robots/Modular and fractal robots

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A robot is generally designed for one particular activity, or at best a few closely related activities. This of course isn't the ideal situation as many jobs require a large number of very different activities. For example, building the walls of a house and installing plumbing and electricity require very different tools and techniques. In practice this means you'll end up designing either several different robots or a very complicated one.

Modular robotics is one answer to such problems. Typical modular robots consist of a number of independent cubes, which can move and connect themselves in many different ways. Each of the cubes have their own power supply and intelligence and can have specific tools. When a problem is fed to its computer, it analyzes it and connects the cubes in such a way that it can solve the problem.

Ideally such a robot would consist of a very large number of very small identical cubes. This is similar to the way plants, animals or humans are consisting of many cells, which are practically identical, with the difference that specification would happen in software rather than in chemical composition.

The difference between fractal and modular robotics is that the former allows multiple sizes of cubes and the latter does not.

Most people are familiar with the fact that sufficient quantities of clay bricks (architectural bricks) or Lego bricks can be used to approximate nearly any shape, and so our introduction to modular robotics was in terms of cubes. Instead of making each cube independent, some researchers make pairs or triplets of cubes independent[1]. However, some roboticists point out that rhombic dodecahedron are, in some ways, superior to cubes[2].

The open-source Unified Simulator for Self-Reconfigurable Robots (USSR) can be used to simulate and test various modular robot designs and algorithms before building physical hardware.[3][4]

The open-source ARGoS robot simulator can be used to simulate large heterogeneous swarms of robots.[5]

Many people have built physical prototypes of modular robots.[6]

Some people use the phrase "modular robot" to indicate that its interfaces have been standardized so elements can be swapped out without custom-made adapters. (See Space Transport and Engineering Methods/Advanced Manufacturing#Modular Robot, Seed Factories/Basics#Modular Design, Seed Factories/Notes3#Modular Design:, Seed Factories/Notes8#1A.3.4 Supply Internal Transport, etc. ). Such a modular robot has:

  • the wrist of a robot arm has a standard mounting pattern so several "hands" with different kinds of tools can be swapped out;
  • the shoulder of a robot arm has a standard mounting pattern that can be attached to a fixed pillar or various motion bases;
  • a standardized power connector makes it easy to swap between a small lightweight battery, a heavier longer-lasting battery, and mains power;
  • etc.


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Further reading

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See and Fractal Robots and modular robots for more information in this kind of robots.