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Computer Science Researchers Create Modular, Flexible Robots

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Dartmouth College computer science Ph.D. candidate Luyang Zhao

The soft robotic blocks "join up in different ways to perform different functions," says Luyang Zhao, a Ph.D. candidate at Dartmouth.

Credit: Dartmouth College

Flexible robotic blocks developed by computer scientists at Dartmouth College, Rutgers University, and Yale University can be assembled into structures of different shapes for a variety of functions, with the ability to roll, walk, grip, and bear weight.

The StarBlocks three-dimensionally printed modules are described in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

StarBlocks are comprised of a material with the properties of both plastic and rubber, featuring a star-shaped skeleton and a light and stretchy core. The researchers assembled the modules into structures including a rolling wheel, a robotic arm that can grab and move small objects, a quadruped shaped like a dog that can walk with different gaits, and a load-bearing, dome-shaped tent. They also demonstrated the ability for individual blocks to move toward each other and connect when activated by a computer.

"This is a first-of-its-kind modular system that you can reconfigure, and once it is reconfigured, use its flexibility to achieve tasks," says Dartmouth Professor of Computer Science Devin Balkcom.

From Dartmouth College
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