Anatomy-based organization of morphology and control in self-reconfigurable modular robots

David Johan Christensen, Jason Campbell, Kasper Stoy

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In this paper, we address the challenge of realizing full-body behaviors in scalable modular robots. We present an experimental study of a biologically inspired approach to organize the morphology and control of modular robots. The approach introduces a nested hierarchy that decomposes the complexity of assembling and commanding a functional robot made of numerous simple modules. The purpose is to support versatility, scalability, and provide design abstraction. The robots we describe incorporate anatomy-inspired parts such as muscles, bones, and joints, and these parts in turn are assembled from modules. Each of those parts encapsulates one or more functions, e.g., a muscle can contract. Control of the robot can then be cast as a problem of controlling its anatomical parts rather than each discrete module. To validate thisapproach, we perform experiments with micron-scale spherical catom modules in simulation. The robots we simulate are increasingly complex and include snake, crawler, quadruped, cilia surface, arm-joint-muscle, and grasping robots. We conclude that this is a promising approach for future microscopic many-modules systems, but also that it is not applicable to relatively weak and slow homogeneous systems such as the centimeter-scale ATRON.
Keyword: Distributed control,Design abstraction,Modular self-reconfigurable robots,Scalability,Hierarchical morphology and control,Versatility
Original languageEnglish
JournalNeural Computing and Applications
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)787-805
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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