Bio-Inspired Robotics

Carlo Menon


This project concerns the design of robotic systems inspired by natural principles. It is intrinsically interdisciplinary interdisciplinary as it involves (1) the study of biological systems and the analysis of their physiological, chemical, biomechanical and neurological properties, and (2) the desgn of robotic systems including the development their mechanical, electrical, electronic and control subsystems. The final objective is the development of high performing robotic prototypes based on the physical principles found in natural organisms.Description:The success of biological organisms in solving problems encountered in their environments is attributed to the process of natural selection, the rigors of this process ensuring the efficacy of the results. Biological systems represent the fruits of optimization through trial-and-error that has been in progress over billions of years, and the 1.7 million species that have been catalogued so far can be seen as a vast resource for inspiration of scientists and engineers. Biomimetics tries to extract concepts from biological systems that will allow the design of better, novel solutions, not merely imitating organisms' characteristics but distilling aspects that can be applied effectively from complex integrated systems. Problems that biological systems face are often similar to those faced by engineers. Given the effectiveness with which some of these have been overcome, biologically inspired concepts should be considered seriously when designing new solutions. Although humans have been being inspired by nature for a long time, this process has been on an ad hoc basis. With the continuing emergency of biomimetics as a distinct scientific discipline, the systematic search for biomimetic solutions to particular problems is an increasingly important focus. Adaptability, autonomy, miniaturization, holistic design, reliability, robustness, self-repair, self-replication are the main traits that can be found in many biological organisms that are of particular interest in space systems design, with its particular requirements and constraints. In this project the basis for a biomimetic design process that is generally applicable, comprehensive and systematic in the search for solutions is investigated.The biomimetic process, which is developed in the framework of this project, is applied in the design of different robotic systems of scientific and industrial interests. For instance, a strong interdisciplinary research program dedicated to providing scientific and engineering leadership in the development of robust and energy efficient bio-inspired climbing robotic systems will be developed. Applications may be categorized under four key areas: 1) Servicing (e.g., maintenance of skyscrapers, ships' hulls, nuclear plants, etc.); 2) Rescue (e.g., during fire, earthquakes, landslide, etc.); 3) security (e.g., surveillance, inspection and military operations in premises and natural harsh environments, etc.); 4) Space (e.g., planetary exploration, Intra-Vehicular Activities, Extra-Vehicular Activities, etc.). Evolutionary examples will be used to design and develop engineered systems based on the principles of climbing in nature. So far the research performed in this field has demonstrated the value of the biomimetic approach, but current bio-inspired climbing prototypes lack both robustness and agaility. The research will focus on the synthesis of a robust and energy efficient climbing mechanism, which relies on the use of biomimetic attaching systems (e.g., gecko adhesive) previously investigated by the author. The current goal is to design a mechanism that enables the development of robotic systems capable of moving on both horizontal and inclined surfaces, as well as transferring between surfaces with differing gradients. During the scope of this project, the interaction between the mechanism and the adhering surface will be investigated. In order to maximize contact surface area, the research will focus on the design of an underactuated system capable of complying with both surface roughness and geometry. The kinematics, stiffness and dynamics of the synthesized mechanism will be investigated in order to optimize its design. Reliability is the paramount concern for climbing systems, as falls generally cause unacceptable damage. Therefore, the robotic system will be designed to prevent adhesion failure. Miniaturized tactile and acceleration sensors will be considered for monitoring and controlling the interaction of the mechanism with the surface.