Robotic Research

This page gives an overview of our research on the mobile robotics especially on climbing robots, urban search and rescue robots, modular robotics, and bio-inspired mobile robotic system.

The research field of robotics has been contributing widely and significantly to industrial applications for assembly, welding, painting, and transportation for a long time. As a special potential sub-group of mobile technology, climbing and walking robots can work in unstructured environments. The last decade has seen an increasing interest in developing and employing climbing mobile robots for industrial inspection, conducting surveillance, and urban search and rescue. Since 1996 we has been developing different autonomous climbing robots. The detail information is shown below.

During the years, two issues are investigated throughout in designing a climbing robot: the lightweight mechanical structure and the attachment principle. And a systemic analysis of the basic functions of a climbing robotic system is given based on all our related climbing robotic research experience.

After many large robots for climbing and cleaning had been developed, up to now, it is noted that there are few successful prototypes featuring both the mini-configuration and the flexible locomotion capability that is necessary to negotiate surfaces with a complex structure. Generally, climbing robots are significantly relatively large. The size and weight of these prototypes is the choke point. The difficulties of developing a flexible and mini-climbing robot with full locomotion capabilities include not only the weight reduction of the mechanism but also the miniaturization of the flexible construction. In order to meet the requirements of full movement functionalities, there are two possibilities for us. One is designing the climbing robots with as many degrees of freedom as possible. As a result, it is inevitable and unaccepted that the mechanical structure of the prototype will be rather big and heavy. The other possibility is that if we can get some inspiration from module robotic project, which features multiple functions, strong flexible expansibility, and robustness, to integrate and realize the flexible locomotion.

That is the reason why a great amount of attention is emphasized on modular robotic research recently. Two kinds of mobile modular robots have been developed by the author. Based on smart Gecko robot project, a more flexible novel modular reconfigurable mobile robot named JL-I with various moving modes was proposed, which consists of three connected, identical modules for crossing grooves, steps, obstacles and traveling in complex environments. JL-I features three-degree of freedom (DOF) active joints for changing shape and a flexible docking mechanism. In order to enable adaptive movement, the robot’s mechanical structure is employed to drive serial and parallel mechanisms to form active joints for changing shape in three dimensions.

The coordinator of JL-I project is Ph. D. Wei Wang from BUAA, who is currently a visting scholarship at TAMS.

Since 2005, a low-cost passive modular robotic prototype has been developed for educational and research purposes. Based on Y1 which was designed by our project cooperator Juan Gonzalez-Gomez in 2004 as the first prototype, the following project was aimed at developing a real low-cost, robust, fast-prototyping modular robot with an onboard controller and sensors and a friendly easy-to-use programming environment for testing and evaluating inspired technology. The new designed Cube-M module is about 80 mm long, 50 mm wide and 50 mm high, which consists of six mechanical parts, a RC servo and an electrical controller with enough sensors completing the system and making sensor-servo-based active perception of the environment possible.

Based on the current research achievements and investigation of movements mechanism of natural caterpillars, currently I combine climbing techniques with the idea of a modular robot to propose an inspired multifunctional modular climbing caterpillar, which is capable of: walking and climbing not only on the surfaces with different materials; full locomotion capacities including pitching, yawing, lateral shift, and rotating; but also sensor-servo-based active perception of the environment.

The goal of this research is to develop a flexible wall climbing robotic platform featuring an easy-to-build mechanical structure, a low-frequency vibrating passive attachment principle and various locomotion capabilities. The caterpillar will be endowed with a novel control hierarchy with different levels. We will implement new biologically inspired approaches on the system and improve the flexibility of robotic systems. The main novelties of this present proposal are: i) a novel and lighter robotic structure based on distributed processing, a novel passive adhesion principle; and ii) a biologically inspired control architecture, that will allow adaptation to new or changing environments. These systems not only are the basis of a new approach to robotics, but also contribute to reducing the overall computational load and minimizing system cost and power consumption.

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