RoMeLa's Chemically-Actuated ChIMERA Robot Moves Like Amoeba

Researchers at Virginia Tech are developing an amoeba-inspired robot that moves by using a technique known as whole-skin locomotion

1 min read

Apparently Professor Dennis Hong at the Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech is exploring robotic locomotion not only with strange multi-legged robots but also with robots with no legs at all.

When we wrote about iRobot's blob 'bot, I should have known that others were working on similar chemical actuation projects. It turns out Professor Hong and his team are developing an amoeba-inspired robot called ChIMERA (Chemically Induced Motion Everting Robotic Amoeba), which can slide using a technique known as whole-skin locomotion.

Though technical details are still under wraps, Travis Deyle at Hizook did a great job in summarizing what is known about ChIMERA and related projects.

To see the "amoebot" in action, watch the video below. It's a talk Professor Hong gave at TEDxNASA -- ChIMERA stars at 07:27.
 

[youtube //www.youtube.com/v/_gJMv9YtX8I&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01 expand=1]

 

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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