ModLab’s ‘SMORES’ Modify Their Environment to Get the Job Done

Given the exact parameters of the task at hand, a robot can assemble a car door or pack a box faster and more efficiently than any human, but such purpose-built machines aren’t good for much else.

With that in mind, the history of robotics research is marked by devising ways of giving machines more and more autonomy. To achieve that end, robots must be able to sense features of never-before-seen environments and know how to they can be interacted with.

SMORES stands for Self-Assembling Modular Robot for Extreme Shapeshifting. EP refers to the Electro-Permanent magnets the modules use to connect.
Its latest project, presented at last month’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation, is based on its SMORES-EP modular robots. Individually, each module can’t do much but roll around on wheels protruding from its cubic frame. But thanks to electro-permanent magnets on those wheels and a hinged face, modules can connect to one another and achieve more complex behaviors, pick up and integrate sensor-carrying components, and manipulate metal objects.

In a new paper, published on the ArXiv, the ModLab team demonstrates how this system can make sense of objects in its environment and use them to complete a given task, such as searching the drawers of a filing cabinet.

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