Story of the Week  

Robot design inspired by biology


Until about a decade back robots resembled ‘slave laborer' performing repetitive jobs in industries, as first imagined by the Czech playwright Karel Capek. What really changed this was the arrival of cheap processors, smart materials and an interest in emulating biological design paradigms. Today robots have appeared in several forms like, home-helpers, pets, soldiers, etc. and apart from doing useful work these futuristic robots are also human ‘friendly'.

The main emphasis of this research is to develop robotic systems taking inspiration from biology regarding: motion, intelligence and compliant materials. The three major research areas are:

a) Emulating Human Motion : Dexterous manipulation and biped locomotion.

The human fingertip contains several sensors that are responsible for providing sensation of touch, pressure, force, slip etc. that is required to dexterously control manipulation. Emulating the functionality of these biological sensors several sensors have been developed using smart materials that can detect force, slip, touch in a robot fingertip. The developed sensors enable a robot to dexterously manipulate an object like a human (Fig. 1). This research has applications in active prosthesis, surgical robotics, etc. where advanced man-machine interfaces are required.

Bipedal locomotion has many advantages over wheeled locomotion. A detailed study of bipedal locomotion has been carried out and an 8 DOF biped robot has been designed and developed that can walk like a human using ZMP tracking. Applications of this are in de-mining, combat soldier, prosthesis etc. (Fig.2 )

b) Emulating Human Like Intelligence : Intelligent grasping and swarm intelligence

This study aims to develop an intelligent control system to grasp a deforming and moving object using a vision system and a multi-finger hand. The developed system can capture the image of the object and then compute the most likely position for placing the fingers to catch the object. The targeted application is to be able to ‘grasp' small organisms like an amoeba, small living creatures etc. In the areas of swarm intelligence an effort is being made to develop multi robot systems that can cooperate with each other to capture a moving object and take it to a desired goal.

c) Artificial muscles: Novel applications of EAP and new mechanism design

EAPs have recently been used to develop new methods of actuation and sensing. Present research being carried out are the development of a 2 DOF micro-manipulator using EAP, vibration suppression applications and a partially compliant four bar mechanism (Fig.3).

Fig 1. Dexterous Manipulation with sensors Fig. 2. Biped Walker Fig. 3. Partially compliant 4-bar

Dr. Ashish Dutta
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur

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