This time around, the biannual Symposium on Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems (DARS) was at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore Maryland. The single track featured a great lineup of invited and technical talks. For example, Prof. Gracias gave a fascinating keynote talk about his group’s work in self-folding microstructures and progress toward making swarms of untethered micro-robots. They designed tiny metal grippers that can perform biopsies in difficult-to-reach areas and be retrieved in bulk via a magnet.
A striking aspect of the diverse (and generally fantastic) technical program was that the exotic Brazil-nut effect kept surfacing. With random agitation granular mixtures of different sized particles spontaneously separate, even against gravity! Larger particles usually end up on top: a fact that can readily be exploited for picking out large brazil-nuts from a mixture that includes less desirable varieties. Applied to robots, this effect can be used to design shockingly simple motion strategies to transport relatively large objects or sort robots.
As a special treat during the poster session, students from Sarah Bergbreiter’s group at the University of Maryland demoed some really neat, really small, and (comparatively) really fast mini-robots called TinyTeRPs.
Also, mark your calendars for 2014 when DARS will be in Korea!
More on the author: Nils Napp works on distributed robotic construction using iterative amorphous depositions. You might have seen his foam-depositing robot on the Automaton Blog or Robohub. At DARS he presented a paper to reliably build ramps in unstructured environments. The idea is to exploit the low-level mechanical feedback of compliant building materials to make construction more robust. As a result, relatively simple local strategies for interacting with irregularly shaped, partially built structures can give rise to robust, adaptive global properties.