EMERGE Modular Robot: A Tool for Fast Deployment of Evolved Robots

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This work presents a platform for evolution of morphology in full cycle reconfigurable hardware: The EMERGE (Easy Modular Embodied Robot Generator) modular robot platform. Three parts necessary to implement a full cycle process, i.e., assembling the modules in morphologies, testing the morphologies, disassembling modules and repeating, are described as a previous step to testing a fully autonomous system: the mechanical design of the EMERGE module, extensive tests of the modules by first assembling them manually, and automatic assembly and disassembly tests. EMERGE modules are designed to be easy and fast to build, one module is built in half an hour and is constructed from off-the-shelf and 3D printed parts. Thanks to magnetic connectors, modules are quickly attached and detached to assemble and reconfigure robot morphologies. To test the performance of real EMERGE modules, 30 different morphologies are evolved in simulation, transferred to reality, and tested 10 times. Manual assembly of these morphologies is aided by a visual guiding tool that uses AprilTag markers to check the real modules positions in the morphology against their simulated counterparts and provides a color feedback. Assembly time takes under 5 min for robots with fewer than 10 modules and increases linearly with the number of modules in the morphology. Tests show that real EMERGE morphologies can reproduce the performance of their simulated counterparts, considering the reality gap. Results also show that magnetic connectors allow modules to disconnect in case of being subjected to high external torques that could damage them otherwise. Module tracking combined with their easy assembly and disassembly feature enable EMERGE modules to be also reconfigured using an external robotic manipulator. Experiments demonstrate that it is possible to attach and detach modules from a morphology, as well as release the module from the manipulator using a passive magnetic gripper. This shows that running a completely autonomous, evolution of morphology in full cycle reconfigurable hardware of different topologies for robots is possible and on the verge of being realized. We discuss EMERGE features and the trade-off between reusability and morphological variability among different approaches to physically implement evolved robots.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Robotics and AI
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2021

ID: 86206985