Tuesday, June 18, 2024

FreeBOT, the modular robots with iron shells that roll around and work together

Although they are the most visible and striking models, the developments of robots are not limited only to android or quadruped models as we are used to seeing in recent years. There are also prototypes that use flexible elements to replace rigid metal parts, while others prefer miniaturized systems that emulate the most prominent characteristics of insects.

A model that began to attract attention is the modular robots, a system based on a set of several pieces that work independently. That is the case of “FreeBOT.” Developed by the researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen, a novel modular self-reconfigurable robot (MSRR) “FreeBOT” can be connected freely at any point on other robots wherever you need them to. It uses magnets and internal motors to roll around or stick together to form larger robot swarms to climb large obstacles.

The internal mechanism of FreeBOT.
The internal mechanism of FreeBOT. Credit: Chinese University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen

FreeBOT is mainly composed of an iron sphere, inside of which is a little vehicle of sorts with two motorized wheels and a permanent magnet that can expand its capabilities thanks to a magnetic mechanism. The magnet keeps the vehicle stuck to the inside of the sphere, and when the wheels spin, it causes the shell to roll forward or backward. Driving the wheels independently turns the shell, reports IEEE Spectrum.

In this way, FreeBOT can multitask with just two internal motors managing the independent movement of the sphere and the reconfiguration system used to create a structure with two or more spheres. Its operation resembles the mechanism used by commercial devices such as the Sphero robot. The joint work of the robotic spheres allows the system to go up or downstairs, in addition to overcoming various obstacles.

This connection method has fewer physical constraints, so the FreeBOT system can be extended to more configurations to meet more functional requirements. FreeBOT can accomplish multiple tasks, although it only has two motors: independent module movement, connector management, and system reconfiguration.

At present, the robots do not have any intelligence and must be radio-controlled via an operator, and the battery charging system remains to be resolved.