On February 13, ISI's Wei-Min Shen reported to NASA
significant progress in developing "SuperBot," identical
modular units that plug into each other to create robots that
can stand, crawl, wiggle and
even roll, illustrating his comments with striking video of
the system in action. |
Shen's presentation took place at the
Space Technology and Applications International Forum 2007
(STAIF) held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For the report, he first offered a description of the
"Superbot consists of Lego-like but autonomous robotic
modules that can reconfigure into different systems for
different tasks. Examples of configurable systems include
rolling tracks or wheels (for efficient travel), spiders or
centipedes (for climbing), snakes (for burrowing in ground),
long arms (for inspection and repair in space), and devices
that can fly in micro-gravity environment.
is a complete robotic system and has a power supply, micro-
controllers, sensors, communication, three degrees of
freedom, and six connecting faces (front, back, left, right, up
and down) to dynamically connect to other modules.
"This design allows flexible bending, docking, and
continuous rotation. A single module can move forward,
back, left, right, flip-over, and rotate as a wheel. Modules
can communication with each other for totally distributed
control and can support arbitrary module reshuffling during
"They have both internal and external
sensors for monitoring self status and environmental
parameters. They can form arbitrary configurations (graphs)
and can control these configurations for different
functionality such as locomotion, manipulation, and
Shen illustrated his words with SuperBot action video
showing these processes.
He and his colleagues and
students made the fillms in just one week, immediately after
completing the mechanics and electronics hardware for the
latest batch of SuperBot modules at the beginning of
"The fact that
SuperBot can achieve so much in so
short a time demonstrates the unique value of modular,
multifunctional and self-reconfigurable robots," Shen
The SuperBot team includes PhD students Harris Chiu, Jacob
Everest, Feili Hou, Nadeesha Ranasinghe, and Mike
Rubenstein; MS students Nick Kiswanto and Peter Shin; and
Computer Scientists Mark Moll and Behnam Salemi.
Follow the links below to view .wmv files of some of
climbing between buildings:
Climbing a river
Finally: what does the world look like from a SuperBot POV?
Shen holds a research appointment in the USC Viterbi School
Engineering department of computer science in addition to
post as an ISI project leader and director of the ISI
Polymorphic Robotics Laboratory.
Shen has been developing modular robots for six years,
working with NASA (his current funder) and others.