Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Carlo Pinciroli, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Greg Lewin, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Zhi Li, Committee Member

Identifier

etd-3941

Abstract

Construction is a complex activity that requires the cooperation of multiple workers. Every year, construction activities cause injuries and casualties. To make construction safer, new solutions could be provided by robotics. Robots could be employed not only to replace human workers, but also to make construction in harsh environments safe and cost-effective, paving the way for enhanced underwater infrastructure, deeper underground mining, and planetary colonization. In this thesis, we focus on the topic of collective construction, which involves the cooperation of multiple robots, by presenting a collective robot construction method of our own. Collective construction can be a more viable option than employing individual, complex robots, by potentially allowing the effective realization of large structures, while offering resilience through redundancy, analogous to insect colonies. Our approach offers a novel solution in the design trade-off between choosing the number of robots involved vs. the complexity of the robots involved. On the one hand, capable and complex robots are expensive, limiting the cost effectiveness of realizing large swarms which provide redundancy and increase the system’s resilience to faults. On the other hand, simple and inexpensive robots can be manufactured in large numbers and offer high redundancy, at the cost of limited individual capa bilities and lower performance. We use two types of robots: intelligent scaffolding and worker robots. The intelligent scaffolding acts as regular scaffolding, allowing the worker robots to navigate the structure they assemble, while also guiding and monitoring the construction of the structure. The worker robots move and connect scaffolding and building material while only knowing the local commands necessary to complete their task. This approach is loosely inspired by termite mounds, in which termites use the process of stigmergy in which they mark construction pellets with pheromones to affect the progress of construction, while navigating the struc ture that they build. Thanks to intelligent scaffolding, construction robots have a simple design that allows minimalist onboard computation and communication equipment. In this thesis, we produced a minimum viable prototype demonstrating this concept. Intelligent scaffolding is realized through smart blocks that can be laid and connected to each other. The smart blocks are capable of simple computation and communication once laid. The construction robot uses local navigation methods by line-following across the scaffolding and building blocks of the system. The blocks and construction robot both have a modular design, simplifying the process of manufacturing and repairs while maintaining a low cost. The robot and blocks use magnets to increase the margin of error during block manipulation and allow for the assembly and removal of scaffolding as well as its reuse between build sites. To communicate with the robot, the intelligent scaffolding blocks send local IR signals, similar to TV remote signals, when the robot is on top of them, minimizing the risk of global interference and keeping the system portable. To monitor the connectivity of the system throughout the life cycle of the structure, electrical connections run through each of the blocks, which indicate the status of the structure and can be used to diagnose the location of breaks in the structure for maintenance.

Publisher

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name

MS

Department

Robotics Engineering

Project Type

Thesis

Date Accepted

2020-05-18

Accessibility

Unrestricted

Subjects

Swarm, Collective robot construction, Stigmergy, Navigable structure, Bio-inspired, Robot construction

Available for download on Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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