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Self-assembly in autonomous Robotic Systems

Final Activity Report Summary - SELFASSEMBLING ROBOT (Self-assembly in Autonomous Robotic Systems)

It has been observed that discrete and autonomous entities, on scales from the molecular to the planetary, bind to each other without being externally directed. The underlying process, termed self-assembly, encouraged researchers from many disciplines to study the design of modular and collective robot systems in which the new entities arise autonomously by self-assembling. However, potential uses of such entities and their merits with respect to traditional robots are vastly unexplored.

This project represented a systematic attempt to evaluate the utility of self-assembly for autonomous robot missions in highly unstructured, unknown environments. In particular, it examined (i) mechanisms that let components of a robotic system organise into connected logical entities displaying primitive forms of self-replication, and (ii) mechanisms that let such entities navigate all-terrain and manipulate different objects, while at the same time adapting their degree of mobility and strength by adding or rejecting components.

The project results illustrate the practical use of self-assembling robots in situations that require a high degree of autonomy, flexibility, and adaptiveness, such as an autonomous mission of planetary precolonisation. The project has as well let to the development of prototypes of a new modular robotic system that will open new avenues for experimentation in self-assembly research. In particular, the system will enable the study of evolutionary processes that shape the physical properties of robots without human interference over long periods of time.