An Analysis of Self-Reconfigurable Modular Robots and Transformer Robots

People no longer want simple things, complicated things are more interesting. A simple robot does one or more tasks and nothing else, a bit boring for users and researchers in the field who were inspired by science fiction films when creating modular robots and robots that turn into other robots. At first glance it’s hard to figure out what we can do with some and what can we do with others. In this article we’ll analyze the two types of robots in order to align the two concepts with cases that can be used and which are the differences between concepts.

A self-reconfigurable modular robot is a concept created in robotics allowing to a number of robotic modules to connect with each other to create a robotic structure which at one time is used for a particular task. This type of robots has their advantages in comparison to other robots with a structure that cannot be changed. Regardless of their size and number, each modular robot has its own memory and can take individual decisions to create an optimal structure that works in the toughest conditions. Also after arranging the modules, communication between them has been established and the desired structure to achieve a particular task is formed, various tools can also be added to the newly created structure.

If above I analyzed some positive points of modular robots compared with standard robots, robots that change shape using the same structure are called transformer robots. These, unlike modular robots, have one brain that controls everything related to that robot. All parts of a transformer robot are controlled by a central unit which takes decisions and who knows in real time the status of each component. Number of brains from both concepts and the link between components is the biggest difference between modular robots and transformer robots.

What is a modular robot?

A modular robot is a piece of a puzzle that at some point is arranged in a structure to build a robot in order to do a certain task. These robotic modules are characterized by the smallest size which a unit can have and is designed to work independently. Modules are connected to each other by various methods which may include magnets, grippers or other mechanisms. The communication between modules is vital and can be done using radio waves, infrared or surface electrical signals.

Modular Roombots (Photo: GizmoWatch)

This part of a complex robot has its own brain which communicates and works according to other brains in the system. A single module is usually characterized by a cubic form and can’t do much alone. These components are specifically designed to work in a structure. This concept can be used to form a wide range of robots, including robots that move like a snake for rescue or military missions, machines moving with legs created from modular robots and generally structures that can adapt and withstand in the imposed conditions. Continue reading (…)

No Place for Traffic Signs in the World of Self Driving Cars

Everyone is talking about electric cars as the new trend in the field but very few talk about the next wave that will come in the automotive industry. Projects occurring lately make us to find a reason to say that self driving cars will be the new trend after electric cars. Why? Because the robots will take over in many areas. We will have robots at home, at office, from home to office, in our free days will use robots for entertainment, we will follow at TV our favorite robotic football teams, our children will play with robots, and so on.

Our life will depend on robots, our roads will depend on robots but will be much safer than now and we will get a lot faster in the desired place than now. The list of companies who are investing in robotic cars is short right now but every year there are new names in the field. They started with simple projects where autonomous vehicles operate in places where no grass grows. Time and money invested in new technologies and in artificial intelligence led to development in the end, or rather to the end of the beginning. Finally the cars will be capable of self driving while we sit comfortably and talk on the phone or use our laptop to check emails we’ve received.

Mercedes Benz Concept Car (Photo: Digital Trends)

The new generation of robot cars seen through the eyes of optimists is very close and we will be faced with fait accompli in the coming years. It is possible that in the coming years – while we wait for green at traffic lights – to look over shoulder and not see anyone to steering wheel of the adjacent car. Just a human in the back involved in various activities. This scenario is not only possible, it is a scenario valid even in our days. Continue reading (…)

Mobile Apps for Interacting with Your Mindstorms NXT Robot

Mobile handheld devices have been around for a while and are continuously evolving in terms of both hardware and software capabilities, becoming more practical for a variety of uses. Gone are the days when such handheld devices were used for voice communication or some simple internet browsing and organizing tasks, as miniaturization became more and more significant these devices became packed with communication interfaces, sensors and other peripherals, with powerful processing units to support the added workload and operating systems to coordinate all of it.

Mobile devices and the NXT


In fact nowadays, we can find these smart devices employed in ways not imaginable no more than a decade ago, not without a standard computer at least. As the gap between the capabilities of a standard computer and a smartphone or a tablet diminishes, it is not unusual to see a smartphone or a tablet PC used as a gaming console, as a home media server or as the main method for voice, e-mail or other types of communication. These devices have become very popular when used as full featured remote controls in building automation systems, sensing units or even for development up to a certain level. The list of applications is practically endless so it came only natural to take use of features offered by such a capable device in the field of robotics. Today we will talk about apps created for the two main mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, designed for enabling your smartphone or tablet to interact with the Mindstorms NXT robotic platform. These apps can either turn your handheld device into a remote control for your NXT robot, a data logger or a tool for on the go programming.

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Telepresence Robots Reviewed – Part 3

In the third part of our telepresence robots review we will talk about a project soon to make it into production, in the form of a very cost-effective robot you can employ with your iPhone, a soon to be released telepresence solution from a Willow Garage subsidiary, and a telepresence robot from India, which seems to be a very interesting product at first glance. For more information you can also check out part 1 and part 2 of our review.

VGo Robotic Telepresence Solution

The first robot in today’s lineup is the VGo robot, a relatively popular product. Developed by VGo Communications, a company founded in 2007 formerly known as North End Technologies, the robot was introduced back in June 2010, as a compact and elegant alternative to existing telepresence solutions.

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Commercially Available Professional Robotic Manipulators – Part 2

As a continuation of our professional robotic manipulators review, started here, in this article we will present products that are more specialized for certain applications. We will talk about exoskeleton support arms, a very advanced adaptive gripper and robotic arms well suited for research or business environments.


Kinova JACO RE Robot Manipulator

The JACO robotic manipulator – Research edition – from Kinova, a Canadian company established in 2006, is a one-of-a-kind product aimed at professionals. The robotic arm has 6 DOF and each joint allows for unlimited rotation about its axis. Its main construction material is carbon fiber, with an aluminium base structure for fixing it to different surfaces. Joints have an unique design, consisting of compact actuator discs (CAD) which are in fact interchangeable and replaceable. They are linked together by a zero insertion force (ZIF) cable. The arm’s gripper is a basically a hand with 3 plastic fingers with 3 joints each, which can be controlled independently, providing very good flexibility and grip thanks to the unique manufacturing process.

Photo: Kinova

The JACO can be controlled through the Kinova JACOsoft software when connected to the USB port of a PC. The software features advanced IK algorithms to provide maximum control to the user and also avoid unwanted positions, or singularities. An API, providing complete control, diagnostic and various other tools, is available for better integration in projects, running on Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP, Vista and 7 operating systems, extensive documentation being provided. The arm can also be controlled with the Kinova 3 axis joystick provided with the package. Continue reading (…)

Anybots QB Telepresence Robot Test Driven

Not long ago Bill Murvihill from Anybots invited us to test drive their QB telepresence robot. We received all the information to set up our account which involved downloading and installing a plugin for our browser and… that was it.

The interface for interacting with the Anybots QB telepresence robot loaded and we were presented with a driving mode selector, status indicators for battery power and WiFi signal strength and of course the main video window. We selected the high definition option from the video quality drop-down box clicked on the video window and started navigating, using the arrow keys on our keyboard, around the large hall the QB was located in.

Anybots QB telepresence robot

Anybots QB telepresence robot (Photo: Anybots)

From the docked position the QB robot immediately started moving forward when we pressed the forward key and we could hear a faint noise as it rolled out of the docking station and started rolling on its two-wheel base. And speaking of the base, the balancing abilities were pretty impressive even when we performed some more aggressive maneuvers while getting used with the controls. Moreover, when pushed, the robot will maintain its equilibrium returning to the initial position afterwards. Continue reading (…)

Commercially Available Professional Robotic Manipulators – Part 1

Robotic arms or manipulators are employed on a large scale nowadays, in almost every field of human activity, in fact you could probably count on fingers applications not benefiting from such robotic products. You can find robotic manipulators almost everywhere, in industrial environments performing highly repetitive or heavy duty manufacturing activities on assembly lines, in research facilities precisely handling sensible or hazardous substances or objects and even on other planets gathering samples or otherwise. Even for hobbyists or tight-budget projects the market has alternatives to offer, as we pointed out in our articles about budget robotic arms here and here. Robotic arms generally replicate a human arm therefore their structure is relatively similar, however design variations are incredibly numerous, mainly due to the fact that these robotic devices are purpose built to the applications they are employed at and can have various degrees of complexity, capabilities or performance compared to their human equivalents.

In this article we will present professional robotic manipulators that are aimed at research or otherwise professional work environments. These products are very complex and feature very high operating precision, reliability and performance. Robotic arms are made of high quality materials featuring unique design solutions to enhance their capabilities and operation, while end effectors are often in the form of robotic hand grippers, very similar in structure to their human counterparts, featuring fingers and multiple joints for each of them. You will also find exoskeleton robotic arms meant to augment human capabilities. All of these come of course at a price, in the range of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.


CES MechaTE Robot Hand

The first product comes from a company specialized in animatronics, namely Custom Entertainment Solutions, Inc. As you might have guessed this robotic hand is designed with entertainment in mind and does not carry substantial gripping force, as the manufacturer states. The robotic hand has 5 fingers featuring a total of 14 joints, the exact number found in a human hand.

MechaTE robotic hand (Photo: CES)

Five Futaba S3114 servos actuate each finger independently, meaning that the servos can be controlled through any conventional PWM servo controller interface, allowing for easy implementation into existing projects. Continue reading (…)