Design and Control of the DONUts: A Scalable, Self-Reconfigurable Modular Robot with Compliant Modules

Nialah Wilson, Steven Ceron


Modular self-reconfigurable robots are composed of active modules capable of rearranging their connection topology to adapt to dynamic environments, changing task settings, and partial failures. The research challenges are considerable, and cover hardware design with inexpensive, simple fabrication and maintenance, durable mechanical parts, and efficient power management; and planning and control for scalable autonomy. We present a new planar, modular robot with advantageous scaling properties in both fabrication and operation. Modules consist primarily of a flexible printed circuit board wrapped in a loop, which eases assembly and introduces compliance for safe interaction with external objects and other modules, as well as configuration of large scale lattice structures beyond what the manufacturing tolerances allow. We further present ongoing work on coordination schemes that leverages these features for basic autonomous behaviors, including distributed shape estimation and gradient tracking in cluttered environments. This work brings us a step closer to the ambition of robust autonomous robots capable of exploring cluttered, unpredictable environments.