Current Projects

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Micro-force Sensing Mobile Microrobots (μFMMs)

This project is on the creation of a novel class of magnetically-controlled, mobile microrobots with two-dimensional vision-based micro-force sensing end-effectors. By combining advanced mobile manipulation microrobots with a MEMS-based micro-force sensor, a novel, transformative tool for future advancements in mechanobiology and automated biomanipulation will result. The end-effectors of the mobile microbots consist of micro-compliant mechanisms with custom-designed force-deflection characteristics whose deformations are observed with a camera attached to an optical microscope. They are fabricated along with a magnetic microrobot body and are therefore controllable with external magnetic field gradients. These micro-force sensing mobile microrobots will have real-time micro-force-control manipulation capabilities specifically tailored for mechanobiology and automated biomanipulation tasks. A portable Bio-Robotics test-bed, designed to fit comfortably around both inverted optical or confocal microscopes is also under development. A series of proof-of-concept application studies related to single cell and biomaterial adhesion and cell characterization are planned to showcase the efficacy of the system.

Grants: NSF, ONR
Students: Georges Adam, Chenghao Bi

Mobile Microrobot Platform for Advanced Manufacturing Applications

The goal of this research thrust is to create a flexible, micro-scale additive manufacturing platform utilizing a team of untethered micro-scale robots and modular, multifunctional building blocks to create smart micro-devices and structures. Externally applied magnetic fields are commonly used for the power and actuation of individual magnetic mobile microrobots. However, in order to achieve different behaviors from individual robots within a team of microrobots, there must be either significant variation in their design or in the magnetic control signals applied to each microrobot. We are currently working on a novel approach to create a specialized magnetic potential field generating substrate from MEMS-fabricated planar microcoils and the related control methodology to enable truly independent control of multiple mobile microrobots.

Grants: ONR, NSF
Students: Benjamin Johnson, Nathan Esantsi
Collaborators: Michael Zavlanos (Duke)

Autonomous Micro Aerial Vehicles

We are interested in the design and control of autonomous micro aerial vehicles in unknown, cluttered environments. The applications for such MAVs range from search-and-rescue, security, surveillance, mapping, and remote sensing. Traditional vertical take-off and landing micro aerial vehicles are generally underactuated, i.e., equipped with fewer actuators than degrees-of-freedom. As a consequence, they possess a limited mobility because of their inherent underactuation (e.g., quadorotor helicopters can neither translate laterally with a zero attitude nor hover at a spot with a nonzero attitude). We would like a MAV to hover in place with any body orientation and be able to translate with a zero attitude. Additionally, we want to be able to arbitrarily orient a sensor or gripper attached to the MAV body during flight. In order to overcome the limitations of conventional MAVs and realize fully controllable MAVs, we are investigating new fully and over-actuated MAV configurations and actuation techniques.

Grants: NSF, DoD
Students: Daniel McArthur, Arindam Chowdhury, Ze An

Multi-Scale Manipulation, Automation, and Assembly

Micro- and meso-scale automation is a popular research topic today, coinciding with trends to manufacture smaller and cheaper products at faster rates. Some microassembly cells presented in the literature utilize multiple manipulators but they are generally each used for individual operations and do not cooperate to manipulate the same part at the same time and/or use specialized micro-snap fasteners, parts, and substrates. We are interested in designing more flexible micro-scale manipulation and assembly systems than these. Indeed, it may not be desired or even feasible to always to be able to design parts with the requisite features for micro-snap fastening, or with the necessary foldable joints. Therefore, rather than utilizing micro-grippers or relying on specialized part features or assembly substrates to realize 2D and 3D micromanipulation and assembly tasks, we are developing a flexible system consisting of coordinated movements of multiple (2 to 4) micromanipulators with simple point probe-type end-effectors, allowing for a full or over-actuated system capable of executing sophisticated manipulation primitives, such as micro-scale caging operations.

Grants: NSF
Students: Georges Adam, Bo Ji, Matt Lyng

Robotic Tools for Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery

We are developing a micro-robotic device for use in minimally invasive lumbar microdiscectomy procedures. This surgical procedure greatly improves the patient’s quality of life by removing herniated lumbar disc material that causes strain on the branching nerves of the spinal cord, resulting in lower back pain and sometimes even loss of feeling in one’s extremities. Currently, the only instruments available to remove herniated disc material consist of rigid probes with tips that manipulate and remove the patient’s tissue. The inability to freely move within the restricted surgical workspace of the spine, which in some cases can be as small as a cubic centimeter, increases the risk of inadvertent damage of the spinal nerves, as well as other potential risks that can leave the patient paralyzed or requiring further surgery. We are working with an orthopedic surgeon to come up with a system of flexible micro-robotic manipulators and end-effectors specifically for the lumbar microdiscectomy procedure.

Students: Yang Ding, Benjamin Johnson
Collaborators: Dr. Brian A. Cole, MD (Englewood Orthopedic Associates)

Heterogeneous Multi-Robot Teams

Complicated tasks may be too difficult for a single robot to accomplish alone or a team of homogenous robots to dexterously accomplish. Thus, coordination of a heterogeneous team of robots can allow the completion of a complicated task that a team of only one sub-group would be incapable of achieving. For example, aerial robots exhibit several advantages over ground robots, including the ability to maneuver through complex three-dimensional environments and gather data from vantages inaccessible to ground robots. However, aerial robots also have several limitations that reduce their applicability, such as the need for wireless communication and a limited onboard power supply that restricts the platform’s payload capacity and flying time. On the other hand, ground robots can carry large payloads and requisite computing power and communications hardware. In this project, we are investigating how heterogeneous teams of ground and aerial robots can work together to in efficient ways to accomplish various tasks that would not be possible with a single or homogenous team of robots.

Grants: NSF
Students: Ben Abruzzo, Che Kun Law, Ze An
Collaborators: Philippos Mordohai (Stevens Institute of Technology)