The biomorphic robot with distributed power (BIROD) is a prototype of a class of robots that will contain simple, reliable distributed actuators that will consume power from local sources - a design concept inspired in part by biological actuators like muscles in limbs. The BIROD concept stands in contrast to the traditional machine-design concepts of (1) central (therefore vulnerable) sources of power and (2) distribution of power through complex (therefore troublesome) linkages that include gears, pulleys, levers, and other mechanisms. The BIROD concept is potentially applicable not only to robots but also to systems as diverse as home appliances, automobiles, and spacecraft.

At the time of reporting the information for this article, the BIROD had been designed, assembled, and the initial motor movements were demonstrated. The initial design calls for the use of electrical power to actuate muscle wires. (A muscle wire is made of a shape-memory alloy. By sending a sufficient electric current along the wire, one can heat the wire above its transition temperature, causing it to change length. When the current is turned off, the wire cools, returning to its original length.)

With further development, BIROD designs might evolve toward greater degrees of biomorphism. For example, actuators might be made to derive energy from locally stored chemicals that could be recharged; in this aspect, the BIROD chemical/energy cycle would be reminiscent of the adenosine diphosphate/adenosine triphosphate (ADP/ ATP) cycle in biological systems. Going even further toward biomorphism, BIRODs might even be made capable of repairing themselves.

This work was done by Kumar Ramohalli of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-20606


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Motion Control Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 1999 issue of Motion Control Tech Briefs Magazine.

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