PORTFOLIO > Machine Metabolism

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When? September 2009 - May 2012

Research Performed in Cornell’s Creative Machines Lab under Dr. Hod Lipson
Published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine

Machine Metabolism (Robot Truss Reconfiguration) Project Abstract:

Machine Metabolism Concept
Conceptual Rendering of Truss Reconfiguration using a Metabolic Machine

Biological organisms can metabolize: break down nutrients into basic building blocks and use those building blocks to create new things. What if we could reproduce this kind of process in a robotic system? This research aims to address this question by deploying a robot onto a reconfigurable truss structure and using it to autonomously reconfigure the structure into a new, predetermined shape. This “automatic reconfiguration” could perfect the recycling of modular elements from one object into another, enable self-repair, and improve general system robustness. To create this environment, 3D-printed bidirectional geared lattice beams were devised that could be traversed, removed, or added by a 9-degree-of-freedom robot as it navigates around a structure composed of these perpendicularly-attached supports. Utilizing an encoding scheme of reflective markers, the robot is able to determine its relative location and perform the requested reconfiguration action. The current third generation of the metabolic robot has successfully and repeatedly navigated a truss structure and disassembled it, while accurately detecting its current relative location and correcting for minor positioning anomalies. Currently in development is new software that will allow the robot to map an entire structure independently, deduce absolute position, and determine a reconstruction method independently. Applications of this research can be found in disaster recovery, space exploration, and design engineering. In particular, automatic truss repair could be invaluable on the international space station, and autonomous radio tower construction would eliminate work hazards involved in their deployment.


You can learn more about the details of this project on the Cornell Creative Machines Lab Website.

What is my Role in this Research?

Machine Metabolism Robot v3
3rd Gen Machine Metabolism Robot

I joined the machine metabolism project while the second generation of the robot was being designed and tested.  After spending some time performing tests with the second generation of the robot, I devised and implemented a multitude of changes for the third generation of the robot.  Specifically, I completely redesigned the electrical system, improved the motor configuration, and rewrote the entire codebase in C, for use with an atmega-based control system.  I implemented reflectivity sensors on the robot and accompanying software and circuitry to permit the robot to navigate and disassemble a truss structure autonomously.  I co-authored a paper on this third-generation truss navigation robot (see below), and am presently engaged as the primary researcher on this project.


See the Machine Metabolism Robot in Action:

This video shows the navigation and construction/deconstruction capabilities of the second and third generation machine metabolism robot.  I am narrating the video, and I directed the tests shown in the demonstration.

This research was accepted for publication in IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine and was published in the September 2013 issue. It is linked below.


These pictures show some conceptual renderings, as well as photos of the third generation robot.

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