The future of robotics is in versatility and adaptability, as opposed to the highly specialized robots that are common today. Task-specific robots are great if they’re only ever expected to perform that one job they were designed for, but they can’t accommodate any new tasks without explicit human intervention. In an ideal world, robots will have the intelligence and physical capability to adapt to whatever the job or environment requires, and this new robot that can autonomously reconfigure itself is one step closer to that.
SMORES-EP, which stands for “Self-assembling MOdular Robot for Extreme Shapeshifting” with EP for “Electro-Permanent magnets,” was designed and built by a team of engineers from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s part of a class of robots called modular self-reconfigurable robots (MSRR), which are usually self-contained robot “blocks” that can work together to solve problems. SMORES-EP takes that a step further and adds a module with a camera mounted on a mast, so that it is aware of its own physical configuration.
As demonstrated in the video above, SMORES-EP can autonomously determine the task it should perform, and how it should configure itself to complete that task. It’s a able to map out a room, find an object that it should collect, and then deposit it in a designated drop-off zone. But, in its initial configuration, it can’t fit into the tight space where the object has been placed. So, it changes its own shape in order to retrieve the object. On the way to the drop-off zone, it reconfigures itself again for navigation. All of that is handled autonomously without human guidance, which is exactly what we will need from our robots in the future.