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Disclaimer: Projects may change and final project assignments will be finalized after student acceptance to the program. This listing is a selection of projects that have been submitted by participating faculty.

Project Descriptions

Locomotion in Mobile Microrobots
Fabrication and Characteriztaion of Multifunctional Robotic Structures
Balancing Control for a NAO Miniature Humanoid Robot
Ultrasonic Micromotors and Millimotors
Miniature Legged Robots
Miniature Swimming Robots
Small Cross Section Modules for Snake-Inspired Robots
Cell Manipulation Using Optical Tweezers
Path Planning for Miniature Ground Vehicles
Autonomous Control for Robotic Leaf-blowers using Microsoft Kinect
Development of Soft Robots
Actuators for Drug Delivery Microvalves
Strechable Strain Gauges for Sensing
Bio-inspired Acoustic Homing and Navigation for Minaiture Robots
Autonomous Aerial Vehicle to the Rescue of Tiny Robots


Locomotion in Mobile Microrobots
Insects display amazing locomotion capabilities at high speeds over rough surfaces strewn with obstacles. If microrobots could move in a similar fashion, they would be able to climb through rubble to find survivors after an earthquake or build impressive structures similar to ant and termite mounds. However, achieving the same feats with a microrobot 1 cm in size is not a trivial problem. As part of a project to improve the efficacy and efficiency of microrobot locomotion, REU students will investigate new robot designs through both simulation and experimental testing that can take advantage of features such as springy legs (to return energy) or added damping (to improve stability over rough terrain). This project will allow students to learn about the mechanics and dynamics of a running microrobot or insect in addition to new techniques used to fabricate robots only a centimeter or two in size.

Fabrication and Characterization of Multifunctional Robotic Structures
The development of more autonomous robotic structures requires integration of multiple functionality into single structures. Thus, "multifunctional robotic structures" need to be both fabricated and characterized in order to realize greater autonomy. We are currently integrating sensors, solar cells, and batteries into polymer and polymer composite structures to make self-sensing and self-powered robotic structures. Through the choice of polymer and polymer composite, the design of interfaces between components, and the overall thickness of the structure, it is possible to control the mechanical properties and multifunctional performance. Utilizing advanced characterization techniques such as DIC for full-field deformation characterization, and microscale/nanoscale force measurements, we can quantify the mechanical response and resulting multifunctional performance for a variety of miniature robotic platforms, including bio-inspired flapping miniature air vehicles (MAVs) and stair-walking robots. Students participating in this project will have the opportunity to learn how to utilize these advanced characterization techniques and to make multifunctional structures for bio-inspired miniature robots such as the self-sensing wings for flapping MAVs in the attached figure.

Balancing Control for a NAO Miniature Humanoid Robot
Balancing in humanoid robots is a challenging problem, and balancing while performing some manipulation task is even more challenging. In this REU project, the student will study the kinematics and dynamics of the NAO humanoid robot. Using this study, the student will develop and implement a novel one legged balance control strategy for the NAO robot while the robot accomplishes a predefined task with its arms.

 

Ultrasonic Micromotors and Millimotors
There is a need for low-cost and high-torque rotary actuators for applications ranging from small unmanned aerial vehicles (e.g. propulsion, control surface actuation, sensor positioning, weapons targeting) to medical robotics (e.g. endoscope/catheter imaging actuators) and beyond. A new class of ultrasonic micromotor, which employs high-frequency traveling waves within an elastic stator to transfer momentum to a coupled rotor element, has been developed using both thin film and bulk piezoelectric materials for "wire-free" actuation of a catheter-based intravascular imaging probe. In this project, students will help implement the integrated catheter actuator/probe system, explore digital control schemes for signal delivery to the actuator elements, and develop next-generation micromotor designs for related robotics applications.

Miniature Legged Robots
Legged robots have fundamentally different locomotion capabilities compared to wheeled robots. While wheeled robots are efficient on flat ground, irregular and difficult terrain can most easily be traversed by means of legged designs. Robots inspired by animals simplify the difficulty of achieving an objective, yet realizing a robot modeled after a small lizard is a challenging task. As a part of this project, the student will have an opportunity to design a four legged robot based on the smallest servo motor available in the hobby market. The student will also develop and program the gait for this robot to enable it to walk on a terrain with a significant slope while maintaining balance and stability. The starting point for this project will be a family of legged robots created by our group. The student will study the existing designs, research how existing four legged animals move, and use appropriate scaling laws to create new designs. This project will provide a practical application of programming, mechanical design, dynamics, and basic electronics.

Miniature Swimming Robots
Aquatic robotics is a field with many interesting problems to be solved.  This is especially true of swimming robots, as non-traditional methods of propulsion such as legs present unique challenges.  For instance, waterproofing is quite difficult to achieve given the proper geometry required.  Such robots, however, have significant advantages over traditional boat-type robots: for example, the ability to add in other forms of locomotion such as walking or crawling, as well as applications such as environmental monitoring.  The student will consider the inherent issues with the type of platform, study designs that have attempted to address these issues, and design a robot that will swim.  This will necessarily include applications of mechanical design, electrical wiring, programming, and a basic knowledge of dynamics.

Small Cross Section Modules for Snake-Inspired Robots
Recently, there has been an interest in snake-inspired robots for such applications as search and rescue, navigation in dangerous environments, and planetary exploration. Due to their elongated form and lack of legs, snakes have compact cross-sections and thus can move through very thin holes and gaps. Likewise, snake-inspired robots have much thinner cross-sections than other robots with equivalent sizes and capabilities. Such robots can reconfigure their geometries for different tasks, self-repair, and be easily transported. Furthermore, because snake-inspired robots have redundant designs based on simple modules, they can be inexpensively mass-produced. As a part of this project the REU student will have an opportunity to design, build, and test modules to be used in a miniature modular robot. In addition, the student will survey and select servo motors with the appropriate torque and physical size characteristics for this application. The student will learn and apply kinematics and dynamics principles, as well as, advanced manufacturing techniques during this project.

Cell Manipulation Using Optical Tweezers
Cell manipulation is crucial in many emerging biological and medical applications. Different medical operations, for example, diagnosis, therapy, drug delivery etc. can be significantly improved by deploying specialized robotic technologies for manipulating cells. Optical Tweezers is a wonderful cell manipulation instrument that uses laser beam to grip a cell and transport it precisely to a desired location without any physical contact. In this project the REU student will have an opportunity to learn how different robotic techniques can be used to automate the cell manipulation process using Optical Tweezers. As a part of the project, the student will learn and implement different motion planning algorithms and test them in our Optical Tweezers set-up to automatically manipulate different kind of cells (e.g. Yeast, Dictyostelium discoideum etc.).

(a) Optical Tweezers setup

(b) Dictyostelium discoideum cells are arranged in different pattern (i.e. English letter 'A', Smiley face) to study their inter-cellular signals

Path Planning for Miniature Ground Vehicles

Unmanned ground vehicles can be useful in application such as search, rescue, scientific exploration, etc. in highly dangerous and human inhabitable environments. Autonomous path planning is one of the most important research issues in unmanned robotics gaining prominent attention by the researchers worldwide. An autonomous planner allows unmanned vehicles to accomplish missions while safely navigating amidst obstacles in adverse environments. This project is a great opportunity for REU students to get involved in development and implementation of cutting edge autonomous path planning algorithms. Further, the REU students will be engaged in integrating and testing the developed path planning algorithms on a miniature ground vehicle platform. The students will learn and apply robot motion planning algorithms and will be able to be hands-on with an autonomous robotic platform.

Autonomous Control for Robotic Leaf-blowers using Microsoft Kinect
Description: The long-term goal of this project is a build a team of mobile, robotic leaf-blowers capable of cooperatively collecting leaves into a pile. The specific research objective is to apply tools from cooperative control, optimization, and estimation theory to solve the problem of trajectory planning for cooperative leaf-blowing by multiple iRobot Creates. The technical approach to reach this objective is to (1) construct idealized models of the robotic platforms and of the leaves subject to the flowfields generated by a fan mounted on each robot; (2) derive a distributed algorithm to steer the robots so as to aggregate the leaves into a pile, and demonstrate this algorithm indoors using a motion-capture studio to track the robot positions and orientations; and (3) equip each robot with a Microsoft Kinect sensor capable of determining the three-dimensional convex hull of the leaf pile for use in the steering algorithm. The project has potential to produce a robotic system of commercial interest.

Development of Soft Robots
We have shown proof-of-concept for a new type of high-strain, high-force “nastic” actuator based on fluid pumping at the micro/nano-scale.  This technology opens the way to realizing novel soft robots (see figure).  The system needs to be further developed.  The student will learn the operating principles, fabrication methods, and testing for these devices.  The student will work with a graduate student to improve the performance and demonstrate new concepts. 


Steve Shaluta Photography

Actuators for Drug Delivery Microvalves
Polypyrrole is a polymer that changes volume under voltage control due to ion ingress and egress.  It has potential applications from microsurgical tools to drug delivery.  For use in body fluids, we need to understand how the volume change is affected by the different ions found in these fluids. The student will learn how to deposit polypyrrole and how to control the applied electrochemical potential.  The student will analyze the ion transport using color change in video footage.  The student will also investigate how the behavior depends on film thickness, which is presently unknown.  This project involves both experimental work and data analysis for model validation. 

Stretchable Strain Gauges for Sensing
We have developed stretchable strain sensors that can be painted onto existing structures, and we are working towards integrating them with the wings of a flapping micro-air-vehicle.  The student will learn to make and test these devices.  The student will then work towards using them to collect meaningful data from the robots, answering questions such as the following.  Where are the best locations to place the sensors?  How fast do they respond?  What is the best way to prepare the sensors and hook them up to a control system?

Bio-inspired Acoustic Homing and Navigation for Miniature Robots
The survival of animals depends on their effectiveness in collecting sufficient and timely information about their ever-changing environment and on their ability to act upon sensory information. For mobile autonomous robots and vehicles (such as micro air vehicles (MAVs)), analogous capabilities are desirable, but far from being well developed. Specifically, miniature robots equipped with directional hearing and sound localization ability can locate objects within a full 360 degree field-of-view even in a dark environment (e.g., at night), which is a remarkable improvement over vision field-of-view that is restricted to be less than 180 degrees. Researchers have found that the fly Ormia utilizes a unique localization-lateralization scheme for achieving superior sound localization precision. In this undergraduate research project, the students will study an off-the-shell small robot equipped with fly-ear inspired miniature directional microphones (previously developed by Prof. Yu’s group) for acoustic localization, homing, and navigation. A simple, yet effective acoustic localization algorithm inspired by the fly’s localization/lateralization scheme will be implemented and tested for robotic acoustic localization. Specific research tasks including sensor instrumentation, integration of sensors with robots, testing the implementation of the bio-inspired algorithms, and characterization of the system performance for localization, homing, and navigation. The student will gain hands on experience with bio-inspired sensors and learn controls and dynamics in this project.

 

Autonomous Aerial Vehicle to the Rescue of Tiny Robots
This project will be hosted in the CPS and Cooperative Autonomy Laboratory. The aim of the project is to devise software and algorithms to achieve two goals: 1) to have a collection of small robots rendezvous in a meeting point 2) have the small robots lifted and relocated to a "safe" place by a quadrotor. This will be an interesting and challenging project that will involve robotics, vision and smart algorithms.

tinybots

   
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