Robotics researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) have developed a form-shifting robot for space exploration, named the Mori3.
The robot combines polygon meshing and swarm behaviour to morph from 2D triangles into ‘almost any 3D object’, according to the research team.
The research was published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence and was intended to demonstrate the potential of modular robotics, such as the fictional TARS robot in the film Interstellar, for space travel.
“Our aim with Mori3 is to create a modular, origami-like robot that can be assembled and disassembled at will depending on the environment and task at hand,” said Jamie Paik, director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL).
“Mori3 can change its size, shape and function.”
Mori3 is made up of individual triangle-shaped modules that join together to create polygons of varying sizes and configurations, allowing the robot to ‘shape-shift’. The name of this process is polygon meshing.
“We have shown that polygon meshing is a viable robotic strategy,” said Christoph Belke, a post-doctoral researcher in robotics.
“To achieve this, the team had to push the boundaries of various aspects of robotics, including the mechanical and electronic design, computer systems and engineering.
“We had to rethink the way we understand robotics. These robots can change their own shape, attach to each other, communicate and reconfigure to form functional and articulated structures.”
The researchers consider the proof-of-concept study a success as Mori3 is able to move, handle and transport objects and interact with users, fulfilling three key functions of a robot.
This changing of shape or function is critical to enabling robots to perform multiple tasks, Paik explained.
“Of course, a general-purpose robot like Mori3 will be less effective than specialised robots in certain areas. That said, Mori3’s biggest selling point is its versatility,” she added.
Mori3 robots were designed for use in spacecraft without capacity to store robots for multiple different functions; the researchers likewise hope that Mori3 robots will be used for communications and external repairs.