Catoms: Moving Robots Without Moving Parts

Brian Kirby, Jason Campbell, Burak Aksak, Padmanabhan Pillai, James Hoburg, Todd Mowry, Seth Copen Goldstein

We demonstrate modular robot prototypes developed as part of the Claytronics Project. Among the novel features of these robots ("catoms") is their ability to reconfigure (move) relative to one another without moving parts. The absence of moving parts is central to one key aim of our work, namely, plausible manufacturability at smaller and smaller physical scales using high-volume, low-unit-cost techniques such as batch photolithography, multi-material submicron 3D lithographic processing, and self assembly. Claytronics envisions multi-million-module robot ensembles able to form into three dimensional scenes, eventually with sufficient fidelity so as to convince a human observer the scenes are real. This work presents substantial challenges in mechanical and electronic design, control, programming, reliability, power delivery, and motion planning (among other areas), and holds the promise of radically altering the relationship between computation, humans, and the physical world.

Content Area: 17.Robotics

Subjects: 17. Robotics; 6.4 Virtual Reality

Submitted: May 10, 2005

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