General Areas of Interest
Although robotic researchers have made immense strides in designing systems that provide similar or enhanced capabilities compared with biology, several aspects are not even beginning to be close to matching the abilities of biology. Perhaps the most important of these aspects concerns how things are configured and designed at a fundamental level. Currently robots are made from unique and often complex parts and are reconfigured and produced through a painstaking labor of machining, human assembly and operation. Biology, however, has developed the ability to self-assemble and self-replicate diverse designs from a relatively small library of fundamental components Ð an ability that is arguably the key feature of life itself. The ability for distributed swarms of robots to assemble structures and reconfigure themselves in a manner similar to biology will change the world by allowing any physical thing Ð from furniture to micro-robots to infrastructure - to autonomously and dynamically adapt. Progress has been made in the self-reconfiguring and self-assembling robotic research fields, but it has been slow, and the primitive capabilities of the existing systems clearly demonstrate how much opportunity for progress remains.
I have become fascinated by the ideas of self-assembly and self-organization in distributed robotic systems as I continue to learn about engineering and biology. The grand challenge of designing and understanding the mechanical aspects of these systems provides the context of my desire for graduate study in mechanical engineering. One significant challenge with which I would like to engage is researching the mechanical capabilities and control dynamics associated with distributed parallel mechanical actuators in the context of connected modular robots. A fundamentally intertwined challenge is the nature of the connections between the modules in a reconfigurable system, a complex challenge with many conflicting design constraints. My long-term aspiration for creating distributed robotic systems is to enable the autonomous construction of structures, perhaps even those that can reshape themselves on demand. The results of these ideas could range from creating robots that can self assemble inside people undergoing surgery in order to be as minimally invasive as possible, to construction applications such as allowing rapidly reconfigurable trusses in support of assembly of large scale buildings and manufacturing plants. There are many areas of construction, and mechanical assembly in general, that are currently frustratingly slow and expensive. If biology is any guide Ð the solution to robotic construction and assembly will be to use teams of distributed and perhaps modular robots. My research goals are guided by the hope that the solutions to these problems are not only valuable for society, but due to recent advances, are quickly becoming possible.