This is the first from a series of posts regarding the designing and building of a number of cube units which I’ll call cubebots that will use swarm intelligence skills and reconfiguration of the overall shape to overcome obstacles in an unknown and complex environment.
I don’t know yet how will this project end; it is something new for me. I will change the design and the prototype many times till I’ll get something better each time. If you are curious how come I got interested in such kind of project, this was the start.
The general purpose is to make the modules as simple and small as possible.
General design problems:
1) Are the units going to be homogenous or heterogenous?
To decrease costs and for simplicity’s sake, the units might be homogeneous, but I’ve noticed that these kind of units get too big if each of them contains all the components.
2) What will be their source power?
The main source power will be batteries, rechargeable if possible. Much later, I would add some solar panels to some or all of the units to increase autonomy.
3) How will they be actuated?
I will try several different actuators to compare them and for the novelty’s sake: electrical motors, shape memory alloys, linear electromagnetic motors and piezoelectric motors. Most projects I have seen utilized servomotors so I’ll start with this kind of actuator.
4) What device(s) will be used for the control of these modules?
Given the fact that I want to make the units as small as possible, I should use microcontrollers. I might use other devices if some of the units will be larger than the average, but for now I will keep them homogeneous.
5) What mechanism will be used for their connection and reconnection?
To increase the number of possible configurations, the connection should be genderless. Till now though, the only mechanism of connection that seems easy to control is to use magnets, either an electromagnetic one and a permanent one, either 2 electromagnetic ones.
6) What materials will be used?
Just like with actuators, I’m planning to try a lot of materials. For the structural part I’ll try plastics, composite materials (fiberglass, carbon fiber), metals (aluminum), organic materials – not so sure about that- and according to the material I’ll use screws or adhesives.
7) What is the optimum number of cubebots for the maximum number of possible – or rather useful – configurations?
Right now I have no idea!
8 ) What are the different configurations the cubebots will adopt?
Snakes and spiders are one of the most adaptable creatures in terms of locomotion types and these animals will be my inspiration for the configurations. Snakes can crawl through the narrowest tunnels and they can swim too. As about spiders, they can glide if falling from altitude, have legs for uneven terrain and at least one species is able to roll in emergency cases – just take a look.
9) Should the units have a different shape to adopt these configurations more efficiently?
I have seen some units that are hexagons or dodecahedrons but I haven’t studied them in detail, so for the moment the units will be cubic.
10) What software will be used for this design?
The operating system I use is Linux and I still haven’t find any good 3D CAD for it. Besides that, I will use Eagle for the PCB and OpenOffice for the bill of materials and things like that. About the programming language, I hope I’ll use Java but that also depends on the microcontroller of choice.
11)Are the bots going to change their configuration through rotations or translations?
I’ll start with rotations, because I have more information on that but I’ll study the differences in detail later and if necessary build other cubebots.
12) The platform will be the motor’s case.
The PCB’s design will have to include:
- the motor control
- the sensor reading
- the communication
- the microcontroller
- the power management
- the glue logic: flex cables in this case
The answers to these problems are going to be revised during the project.