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Innovation in terrestrial swarm robotics. Swarm robots need a crash- and stumble-free navigable area in which to perform. The success of robotic swarms in aerial, aquatic, and land-based environments can be attributed to ease of navigation in a homogenous or highly controlled space.

However, terrestrial robot swarms face unique challenges compared to their aerial and aquatic counterparts.

The capability that would allow land-based search-and-rescue robot swarms to navigate buildings and other disaster areas with harsh terrain does not yet exist. 

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working to develop simple, low-cost, legged robots capable of linking and unlinking to accomplish tasks, such as gap traversal, stair and hills climbing, moving on rough terrain and object transport over uneven terrains.

Working with Daniel Goldman from the School of Physics at Georgia Tech, Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin, a former postdoc in Goldman’s lab and now an assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, developed “quadruped” robots using easily acquired off-the-shelf technology. 

Each unit has a 3D-printed, two-segmented chassis and body, four flexible legs, a “passive tail” appendage for additional balance and directional control, touch and light sensors, and a central-body-mounted microprocessor. A magnetic connector allows for docking and cooperative behaviors. 

Reconfigurable swarm robots have been used in prior research into terrain solutions. But these units have limited motive abilities, require human intervention, and lack the desired ease of scale-up for manufacturing and use in a timely and cost-effective manner.  

According to rh.gatech.edu, individual robots perform simple or small tasks, but if the task is beyond the capability of the one unit, a team of robots physically connect to each other and form a larger multi-legged system to collectively overcome issues.

The team’s use of widely available technologies – like 3D printers – could lead to the cost-effective and rapid development of terrestrial robotic teams that can collaboratively move heavy or dangerous objects. They could also be used for search-and-rescue operations, environmental monitoring, or even space exploration. 

“The development of physical connection between individual robot units can improve the mobility of an entire terrestrial collective system, and help prevent failures when attempting a task,” said Ozkan-Aydin. 

The research was recently published in Science Robotics.