Robot assembles truss structures autonomously

Feb 28, 2012 By Anne Ju
Jeremy Blum '12 holds one version of a prototype robot that can autonomously climb, assemble and disassemble truss structures. Photo: Lindsay France

(PhysOrg.com) -- Like something straight out of "Star Wars," armies of robots could nimbly be crawling up towers and skyscrapers to make repairs in the not-so-distant future, so humans don't have to.

That's just one thing researchers in Hod Lipson's Creative Machines Lab envision with their latest robot prototype. It can autonomously traverse and manipulate a 3-D truss structure, using specially designed gears and joints to assemble and disassemble the structure as it climbs.

The robot's design is detailed in a paper accepted by IEEE Robotics and Automation, to appear later online and in print. Its co-authors include former visiting scientist Franz Nigl, former visiting Ph.D. student Shuguang Li, and undergraduate Jeremy Blum '12.

"Here, we are exploring the idea of machines making structures larger than themselves," said Lipson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of computing and information science.

The project is part of a National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation grant jointly awarded to Lipson at Cornell, Daniela Rus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mark Yim of the University of Pennsylvania, and Eric Klavins of the University of Washington. The project explores the idea of automation of construction processes in uncertain conditions.

"What gets me most excited is this idea of safety," said Blum, a student researcher working on the project. Having a robot able to climb and reconfigure building structures, even just to deliver materials, would be a step toward making construction zones safer for humans, he said.

Furthermore, the researchers point to space-exploration applications. Instead of sending astronauts out on a dangerous at the , a robot could be deployed to repair a damaged truss.

Cornell's test robot has gone through several design iterations. The latest one employs 3-D printing to make a bi-directional gearing system that allows the robot to lock onto pieces of the truss with several degrees of freedom in movement.

The design of the truss pieces, which have ridges and specially designed locks so the robot can manipulate them, is as important as the robot itself, Blum explained. Ideally, in the future such robot-friendly building components would be standardized for widespread use.

The is equipped with an onboard power system, as well as reflectivity sensors so it can identify where it is on the structure. This allows it to maneuver accurately without explicit commands, Blum added.

Lipson said he envisions transforming the built environment with the help of these kinds of technologies. Instead of making buildings out of concrete or other non-recyclable materials, components designed specifically for robots could be used to build or reconfigure structures more efficiently -- for example, after an earthquake, or if an outdated building needed to be torn down in favor of something better. While the short-term investment in materials would be more costly, the longer-term ability to reuse and adapt these materials would be worthwhile, he added.

"Right now, we are very bad at recycling construction materials," Lipson said. "We are exploring a smarter way to allow the assembly, disassembly and reconfiguration of structures."

Explore further: Soft robotics 'toolkit' features everything a robot-maker needs

Related Stories

Finnish robotics firm develops trash recycling robot

Apr 20, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Finnish firm ZenRobotics has designed and built a robot that can sort through construction waste and pluck out recyclable material moving by on conveyer belt and then deposit it in an ...

New file format will help 3-D printing progress

Jul 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A newly approved standard for 3-D printing file interchange will greatly enhance 3-D printing capabilities, says Cornell's Hod Lipson, who led the development of the standard.

Simple Robot Climbs Through Tubes (w/ Video)

May 12, 2010

Last week was the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation, held in Anchorage, Alaska. One of the most interesting robots was a simple -- and fast -- bot designed to climb easily through tubes.

Space Robot Can Autonomously Reconfigure Itself

Jun 15, 2009

A robot designed to work in space should ideally be a Jack of all trades, with the ability to perform a wide variety of tasks by itself. By having one robot that can handle many jobs, astronauts can cut down ...

Recommended for you

Flying robots will go where humans can't

Sep 17, 2014

There are many situations where it's impossible, complicated or too time-consuming for humans to enter and carry out operations. Think of contaminated areas following a nuclear accident, or the need to erect ...

Will tomorrow's robots move like snakes?

Sep 16, 2014

Over the last few years, researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed biologically inspired robots designed to fly like falcons, perch like pigeons, and swim ...

User comments : 37

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

baudrunner
1.4 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2012
This is interesting. No doubt there will be competing robot manufacturers vying for a piece of the pie, creating different standards for new modular construction techniques using robots. What are people going to be doing? Will there still be bricklayers or are robots going to do that too? Again, I caution against doing something just because it is doable.
DontBeBlind
3.8 / 5 (4) Feb 28, 2012
Well the bricklayers can learn to fix the robots. Or work in a factory that makes them. Until the day comes when those jobs are done via other robots.
Lordjavathe3rd
not rated yet Feb 28, 2012
Maybe we could power them wirelessly? That would be all too awesome.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Feb 28, 2012
Will there still be bricklayers or are robots going to do that too?

Isn't the aim to get to the point where we only do that type of work which we want to do - instead of slaving at jobs that break our backs or are just plain uninteresting?

Personally I like the quadcopter construction teams best (though they wouldn't be an option in space, of course)
http://www.youtub...P3y8Rf9g

As for bricklayers: One day you'll just have somthing like this on site:
http://www.youtub...RI_Hm1Po
Vendicar_Decarian
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
Who needs a robot when you have low wage third world labor?

danlgarmstrong
5 / 5 (3) Feb 28, 2012
Maybe all those low wage third world PEOPLE could use those robots to build things for them. Don't they deserve a better lifestyle?
Scottingham
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
Antialias hit the nail on the head. This should already be happening. Humanity's productivity is so high every human on this planet could be given a basic income.

It's the only solution short of famine/war/disease of controlling the world's population I can think of (increasing the standard of living for all people).
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (3) Feb 28, 2012
A_P:

Ups and downs to that approach.

True, you could spray a thin coating of a plastic material on it and have it instant water proof, which would probably be perfect shelter for weather related events.

However "mud" type structures, including bricks, don't do well at all in earthquakes. Even with the reinforcement of plastic, spray-on liner, it might not be strong enough.
antialias
5 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
It's a rapid prototyping approach to building. That doesn't preclude it from using multiple materials (e.g. interspersing an elastic layer every now and then, or actually printing a 'brick' structure)

The big advnatage is that you can have a house of any shape and it doesn't cost you any more than a rectangular one - no specialized parts needed.

ESPECIALLY in earthquake zones I could see this used for rapid fabrication of emergency shelters.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (6) Feb 28, 2012
Isn't the aim to get to the point where we only do that type of work which we want to do - instead of slaving at jobs that break our backs or are just plain uninteresting?
What you mean sit around, do drugs, eat pizza and make babies all day? Yeah like Theyre gonna let THAT happen.
Who needs a robot when you have low wage third world labor?
Well, robots are more efficient, more dependable, more trustworthy, and theyre cleaner. And in the long run more cost-effective which is why many industries are replacing humans with machines and have been for the last 100 years.

The problem is this is accelerating, leaving more and more people with no work and no way to support themselves.
cont>
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2012
These machines are fully capable of reporting exactly how much work they do vs how much resources and infrastructure they consume. Owners are not paying the increased revenues from automation proportionate to the humans being displaced, but are only getting richer at ever-increasing rates.

I say it is now possible to pay machines DIRECTLY for the work they do, and extract revenues immediately. This eliminates the wasteful practice of paying owners and waiting for them and their tax lawyers to give up what they cannot steal or hide.

Pay these machines in the same way that the workers they replace were paid. Do it electronically, automatically. Deduct for storage, maintenance, obsolescence and recycling.

Per antialias, how will the non-machine owner reap the benefits of robot industry if owners make all the money? Pay the machines and tax them directly.

Society will reap enormous dividends. We can all sit around and eat pizza, even if our babymaking is strictly proscribed.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
I recently discussed how Amazon could replace almost all of their remaining employees using robots that could probably be made for only a few thousand dollars each, literally 2 to 3,000 per robot to replace a human picker/selector, and would be made entirely from cheap components, including cell phones which already have a GPS and multiple cameras for path finding, small servo motors and wheels which could be designed to interface with the phone, a LIDAR or ultrasound range finding device, and an RFID tag reader, with one grasper arm.

A central computer tells the robot what isle and location to check for the item. The robot tracks it's position through a combination of GPS and video image finding through the cell phone camera, and can do fine calculations based on the radius of it's own wheels.

It finds the item, drops in a bin, and when bin is full, put on conveyor, grab another.

This should allow the complete replacement of all selector and stocker labor in Amazon warehouses.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
Anyway, then you have a robotic battery changing mechanism.

The picker robots, when low on power, back up into the battery changer, which pulls the depleted battery and puts it on a charger, labeling it in the computer system as being uncharged.

It pulls a freshly charged battery and installs it back on the picker robot.

To make this easier, you'd mount the battery cables on some pivots, rubber coated, which automatically swing into exactly the right position, locking in place like Legos, so the battery changing robot does not even need advanced arms, grippers, or vision finding, though with a cell phone "brain" and sensor package, it would have more than enough tools anyway.

I figure even robots who need battery changes would require less "downtime" than humans, by the time you count bathroom breaks, smoking breaks, lunch breaks, employee theft, and goofing off on the clock, etc.

Plus this system would already integrate well with the automation they already have.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Feb 28, 2012
made entirely from cheap components, including cell phones which already have a GPS and multiple cameras for path finding, small servo motors and wheels which could be designed to interface with the phone, a LIDAR or ultrasound range finding device, and an RFID tag reader, with one grasper arm...mount the battery cables on some pivots, rubber coated, which automatically swing into exactly the right position, locking in place like Legos, so the battery changing robot does not even need advanced arms, grippers, or vision finding, though with a cell phone "brain" and sensor package
Your brainfarts are very amusing but extremely sad...
Like watching a dog chew its tail off.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
Ghost, this is not a joke at all.

I've worked in highly automated environments, and I believe this entire system can be constructed from components that already exist.

A modern gaming console comes with a 3D range finding and motion sensing interface, by mounting one of these on a rotating platform, you could provide full 3D mapping of the environment around the robot.

Data input can be converted from one format to another as needed. Multi-cored systems can do this easily now, and the amount of operations we're talking about is minimal compared to the 70FPS video games run at...

The cell phone is perfect because it already has an operating system, as well as redundant wireless communication, GPS, and camera(s).

Some guys at Stanford built a self-navigating robot using less than this, so what I'm describing is probably even over-kill, as it actually would have more navigation abilities than strictly necessary.

The electronics components for this are a few hundred dollars.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
What you mean sit around, do drugs, eat pizza and make babies all day? Yeah like Theyre gonna let THAT happen.

I dunno. I could find a lot of things to occupy my time besides doing drugs, sitting around and eating pizza.

The problem is this is accelerating, leaving more and more people with no work and no way to support themselves.

If machines do the work - and eventually machines fabricate machines - we'll be at the point where you won't need to work to support yourself...it'll be the end of the age of scarcity we currently live in.

'Benefits' and 'profits' won't matter any more.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
See here, ghost.

http://www.arcus-...ogy.com/

A USB hub, a cell phone, and an X-box networked would be able to handle everything.

All of the technologies to do this already exist, most in exactly or nearly exactly the format needed for the task...

It's a mystery to me why it hasn't already been implemented.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
I believe this entire system can be constructed from components that already exist.
So do countless engineers who are working on actual systems not conceived during manic egomaniacal medicationless episodes.
I could find a lot of things to occupy my time besides doing drugs, sitting around and eating pizza.
But you are not 95% of the population who need to be kept out of trouble.
it'll be the end of the age of scarcity we currently live in.
The cycles of growth, decay, collapse and rebirth... always begin with a nice reaganesque period of comfort. Seven years of feast. But during good times population tends to SWELL, and it quickly begins to exceed the carrying capacity of its environment.

The west has beaten this equation by creating a culture based on zero growth. But this has only been negated by the massive influx of immigrants from cultures which have not.

You want to make things even better HERE and it will only attract more tired and hungry from over THERE.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 28, 2012
See here, ghost.

http://www.arcus-...ogy.com/

A USB hub, a cell phone, and an X-box networked would be able to handle everything.

All of the technologies to do this already exist, most in exactly or nearly exactly the format needed for the task...

It's a mystery to me why it hasn't already been implemented.
Maybe yours would work something like this?
http://www.youtub...9N92-wvg

-Or this?
http://www.youtub...=related
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 28, 2012
or maybe something like this...
http://www.youtub...MdN7HMuA

or this
http://www.youtub...2d_0w24E

-Been around for decades. Research dude. Assume first that there are many many more, and much cleverer, people than you out there.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
Ghost:

No, something a bit more flexible and you're being ridiculous.

My concept is not that overly complicated, particularly for Amazon who already has a lot of automation in place. The robot was to replace a simple job: that of the picker/selector.

Since the product varies from anything from books and games, to other novelties and collectibles, the robot needs to be able to both navigate and identify product, that's why the RFID reader and the camera in addition to the 3D range finding technology.

It's not overly complicated, it is specifically calculated to solve several problems that are immediately obvious with conventional automated systems: navigation, visual confirmation, and RFID electronic confirmation that the robot has actually grabbed the correct product, etc.

The goal is to remove labor costs. Such robots could easily pay for themselves in a matter of a few months.

Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
or maybe something like this...
http://www.youtub...MdN7HMuA

-Been around for decades. Research dude. Assume first that there are many many more, and much cleverer, people than you out there.


I know that, but that system would be very inefficient for Amazon, because they don't deal in bulk merchandise. they deal in books and games mainly, which are small and are not even sorted on the shelf. The computer simply assigns each item a cuby and the selector places it there. Later, when it is on order, the computer tells a selector to go get it.

Essentially, they took the idea of a "Vector" and simply digitized the entire warehouse.

It would not be efficient for amazon to have rail systems running up and down all aisles, because that costs a LOT of money in materials and energy.

What I had in mind costs a few thousand dollars per robot initial investment, and pays for itself several times in the first year, in Amazon's case...
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2012
Actually:

http://www.youtub...=related

I had in mind replacing the pickers with a wheeled robot, which cost much less materials and energy than a large rail system.

A rail system would not be efficient for this job, because the rail costs a lot of energy to navigate an aisle, whether or not it's getting anything there.

A wheeled robot can go down only the isles it needs, and get only the items it needs for it's order, just like a human picker.
rwinners
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
Hah! In a little more time, robots will be climbing those towers to keep them in repair because there are no human beings left to do it... or anything else...
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
What you mean sit around, do drugs, eat pizza and make babies all day? Yeah like Theyre gonna let THAT happen.

I dunno. I could find a lot of things to occupy my time besides doing drugs, sitting around and eating pizza.

The problem is this is accelerating, leaving more and more people with no work and no way to support themselves.

If machines do the work - and eventually machines fabricate machines - we'll be at the point where you won't need to work to support yourself...it'll be the end of the age of scarcity we currently live in.

'Benefits' and 'profits' won't matter any more.


Completely agree but people look at me as if I'm crazy when I say that. I explain it to them as follows; Children don't work because parents maintain the infrastructure. We just need to make robots our "parents". They work all day and we play. The difference is we still get to pick our bedtime.
rwinners
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
'They work all day and we play. The difference is we still get to pick our bedtime.'
And what are all of us going to do with all our 'free' time? Something like this would require a complete restructuring of our social system. Think about it.
And, hey, if the wealthy had access to an unlimited supply of robots, what would become of the rest of us?
Shabs42
1 / 5 (2) Feb 29, 2012
I was just thinking about this earlier today actually. I think we are eventually heading for a society where people will have to be given a living stipend and only work for extra income, a la For Us, The Living. There are still many jobs that will need to be done by humans for the foreseeable future; such as teaching, sales, much of the service industry, and basically anything involving creativity. A huge portion of jobs could be cut in the near future though:

Taxi drivers / truckers(~2,000,000 American jobs
Manufacturing jobs (12,000,000
Mechanics (1,000,000)

Better manufacturing processes could also limit opportunities for plumbers, carpenters, and the HVAC industry; not to mention support staff such as human resources.

Sure some jobs will be created in maintaining robots that can't maintain themselves, but nowhere near as many as will be lost. Exciting and scary times are fast approaching.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Feb 29, 2012
The cycles of growth, decay, collapse and rebirth... always begin with a nice reaganesque period of comfort. Seven years of feast. But during good times population tends to SWELL

If populations statistics by nation are anything to go by then it seems that with growing luxury and/or education levels that trend does not hold.
It's a trend that relies on individual recation without a perception of the overall. For the first time in history everyone can get the infomation on the overall (i.e. that overpopulation is a problem) and make decisions that reflect that knowledge. So I think this trend of overstretching the resources available isn't inevitable.
Whether this will be through people coming to grips with the limit of resources themselves or political decisions like China's one-child policy is another matter
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 29, 2012
Something like this would require a complete restructuring of our social system.

Yes. So? Are social systems something sacrosanct or immutable? If everyone (well, the 99%) stand to gain from a restructuring of the social system then why not do it?

Lurker: You really should stop inventing stuiff that has ben around for decades.

powerup1
1 / 5 (2) Feb 29, 2012
Completely agree but people look at me as if I'm crazy when I say that. I explain it to them as follows; Children don't work because parents maintain the infrastructure. We just need to make robots our "parents". They work all day and we play. The difference is we still get to pick our bedtime.


One day the whole world will be one big Disneyland. :-D
powerup1
1 / 5 (2) Feb 29, 2012
Sure some jobs will be created in maintaining robots that can't maintain themselves, but nowhere near as many as will be lost. Exciting and scary times are fast approaching.


Your fears are the same that some people had when we transitioned from an agrarian society to an industrial one. You can always become Amish. :-D
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Feb 29, 2012
A rail system would not be efficient for this job, because the rail costs a lot of energy to navigate an aisle
Robots follow printed or painted tracks.

Perhaps amazon just needs adequate space to install a proper picking system.

Dont think that I could find exactly what youre talking about with a little more time?
http://www.youtub...tp7d7cnA
http://www.youtub...QRHObj1Q
http://www.axiums...letizing
http://www.lewis....ive.html
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 29, 2012
It's a trend that relies on individual recation without a perception of the overall. For the first time in history everyone can get the infomation on the overall (i.e. that overpopulation is a problem) and make decisions that reflect that knowledge.
In egypt the birthrate has gone down in part because people cannot afford to get married until they are 30 or so. Pop growth caused inflation and declining wage value, as well as unemployment. People are understandably upset about this. Youve heard about the unrest there?

At this point in the Cycle a populace will blame whoever is in charge no matter how benevolent or responsive they have been. Jordan is starting to rumble.

In israel people are rioting in the streets over lack of jobs, housing, cost of living. These are caused by religion-mandated growth rates which are immune to the logic of family planning and living within ones means.

Growth doesnt slow until AFTER people begin to suffer. And by then it is too late.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Feb 29, 2012
Marx's theory of labor has been DEMOLISHED. Within 20 years there will be no manual labor in "first world countries"...within 50 there will be no manual labor period.

They can do our labor, but we must guard against letting them do our thinking for us. I hate to be so pedantic but to quote the Matrix..."Once you let us do your thinking for you it became OUR civilization"...
lologagalitho
1 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2012
my roomate's aunt makes $83/hr on the laptop. She has been without work for 8 months but last month her pay was $8682 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site...NuttyRichdotcom
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2012
Growth doesnt slow until AFTER people begin to suffer.

Not everywhere. In most of Europe (especially the further north you go) population growth has halted (or even stopped) without people beginning to suffer.

I attribute this to a certain amount of wealth and education (and lack of religion). But maybe it's just the cold weather.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2012
Growth doesnt slow until AFTER people begin to suffer.

Not everywhere. In most of Europe (especially the further north you go) population growth has halted (or even stopped) without people beginning to suffer.

I attribute this to a certain amount of wealth and education (and lack of religion). But maybe it's just the cold weather.
I attribute it to the great wars which destroyed the obsolete religionist cultures which would have prevented the massive family planning efforts to take place there and around the world. In conjunction with giving women something to do besides procreate.

But you already knew this is what I believed yes? Like I say the world is being made ready for western culture. This has taken centuries of Preparation. Only 1 or 2 more big wars to go.