New Army-Supported Research Paves Way to Shape-Changing Robotics

Jeff Brody

Researchers from academia worked with the U.S. Army to create small robots that would join together to form larger structures. The 3D printed robots, known as smart active particles or smarticles, may serve as a stepping stone towards the development of shape-changing, multi-modal systems, the Army said Friday.

"For example, as envisioned by the Army Functional Concept for Maneuver, a robotic swarm may someday be capable of moving to a river and then autonomously forming a structure to span the gap," said Sam Stanton, program manager for complex dynamics and systems at the Army Research Office.

The smarticle robots feature two flappable arms, motors, limited computing power and simple sensors, and are able to form a combined, moving structure when joined together in a circular confinement. The robots' combined form, known as a supersmarticle, moves in response to light or sound stimuli via sensors.

"These are very rudimentary robots whose behavior is dominated by mechanics and the laws of physics," said Dan Goldman, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the effort's principal investigator.

Goldman's team from Georgia Tech and Northwestern University published the project's findings in the Science Robotics journal here.

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