Researchers are developing a new generation of easy to assemble modular robots that could change the way machines are utilized in manufacturing and search and rescue operations. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: Move over snake robot and make way for the snake monster. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have taken their serpentine machines and connected them to a central hub to create one of the most robust robots ever developed. At the technology's core, says professor Howie Choset, are these modules which connect to each other, allowing researchers to easily assemble and program task-specific robots in minutes. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HOWIE CHOSET, PROFESSOR, ROBOTICS INSTITUTE, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "These modules that we have designed and other modules to be designed, they are like a smart Lego set. We are able to put the modules together as easy as Lego, but there is a lot going on underneath the hood to allow that to happen." Each module is basically a computer smart enough to control the entire robot. They can easily be screwed together, and communicate via Ethernet. More modules equate to a smarter robot, says Choset, increasing the machine's functionality. Imagine a snake monster walking over rubble in a disaster zone, using its wheels to roll down a hill and then one of its legs to slither into a damaged building to search for survivors. That type of functionality isn't far off. The robot could be linked to a twin robot controlled by a distant operator. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HOWIE CHOSET, PROFESSOR, ROBOTICS INSTITUTE, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We built a force feedback master slave arm where the master controls one robot and the slave moves as the master requires." Choset says the tasks these robots can perform are limitless. The researchers have designed the system in a way that allows developers to assemble and program them with ease. Choset thinks it won't be long before snake monsters like these are ultra-reliable, easy-to-use tools for every situation…even at lunch time.