CMU’s robotic arm attaches to a backpack to lend a helping hand

Carnegie Mellon’s Biorobotics Lab is probably best known as the birthplace of the modular snake robot. Initially designed to squeeze into tight spots for search and rescue missions and infrastructure inspections, the lab’s snake robot has given rise to an army of different projects, and at least one Pittsburgh-area startup.
Several years ago, the robot became modular, allowing engineers to mix and match pieces and replace malfunctioning segments. From those modules, the team of CMU students have built a wide range of different projects, including a spider-like hexapod robot, whose six limbs are constructed from robotic segments. We also spent time with Hebi, whose modular robotic actuators commercialized versions of the lab’s research.
When we returned to the lab two years later, the researchers had an entirely new project to show us. “Students in this group are very self-directed, we come up with our own projects,” CMU doctoral student Julian Whitman explained. “We’re often inspired by the ability of our hardware to reconfigure into any kind of shapes. Sometimes people will look at a pile of modules. So they’ll build that and very quickly program it to do some kind of interesting behavior, and sometimes that’ll spur an entirely new research direction.”
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