Sunday, May 08, 2005

Modular Robots Are The Future

The MTRAN-II robot pictured at left is the work of the Distributed Systems Design Research Group at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology which is a bit of a mouthful. The autonomous robot is composed of 10 identical modules with their own motors, processors, and batteries. Together they can do fantastic things. Take a look at their video page.

Not only do the modules allow different configurations to be operated in, but the robot is capable of reconfiguration on the fly (video link).

Why do I think modular robots are the future? There are many reasons but the ones which will drive it are the economic, cost of maintenance and efficiency of scale with mass production. If a simple, standard module can be created and scaled appropriately, the modules could be cheaply produced in vast quantities. All manner of robots could be constructed from simple, standard modules.

As to maintenance, if modules are damaged, there would be no need to have the robot repaired. It would simply disconnect the damaged modules and would integrate the fresh replacements. Likely homes and businesses would keep spare units on site for quick trade-outs. Such device would also be extremely resilient and able to adapt themselves to a wide range of tasks.

These devices would find use in items we don't even think about today when we think of robots. Imagine if your chair, your door, your walls, indeed your entire house were made up of the modules. Rooms and furniture could reconfigure to whatever form was needed. Throwing a party? Ask your house to reconfigure into a single large room. Houses could be smaller but with the functionality and virtual space of a mansion. This is just scratching the surface of what will happen.

How far off is this technology? 50, 100 even 200 years? My prediction is that in 10 years this will be leaving the laboratory. In 25 years it will be ubiquitous. It will become the fabric of our existence and we'll wonder how those sad souls of today lived without it.