NASA Tensegrity and Soft Robotics Exchange Meeting

On Thursday, the Tensegrity and Soft Robotics Technical Exchange Meeting was held at the NASA Ames Research Center. Matthew, Kari, and I were only there virtually, yet it was still a very informative experience. The meeting began with an introduction/overview from Vytas SunSpiral, Senior Robotics Researcher at NASA Ames, including current information about the SUPERBall Project.

Next was Dr. Rebecca Kramer of Purdue University, who presented research about hyperelastic sensors, that use the liquid metal eGaIn to sense strain, curvature, or pressure. Kramer talked about how such sensors can be difficult to fabricate, leading to research into how to better build sensors and circuits with eGaIn, even presenting the concept of having commercially available ink cartridges that would allow consumer inkjet printers to print with liquid metals! Also spoken of was how to use shape-memory alloys and variable-stiffness fibers in tandem to function as actuators in robots.

Following that presentation was Dr. Kostas Bekris of Rutgers University. Bekris presented research into advanced motion planning for tensegrity robots, allowing robots to go beyond repetitive motion to more adaptive movement by use of "kinodynamic" planning. Such research would allow tensegrity robots to easily find the optimal route through dense obstacles, as shown through NASA Tensegrity Robotics Toolkit (NTRT) simulations.

After Bekris was Alice Agogino and her colleagues from UC Berkeley, who have done some fascinating research in tensegrity robotics. First they showed investigations into using tensegrity ball robots with gimbaled thrusters to navigate lunar terrain, and how to most efficiently plan the movement of such robots with rolling and hopping motions. They also spoke of how series elastic actuators can benefit tensegrity robots and the ULTRASpine project.

The next talk, by Kevin Schroeder of the Virginia Tech CRASH Lab, was about the advantages of using a tensegrity robot to explore the surface of Venus, an extremely unforgiving environment. The TANDEM concept for a vehicle that could perform EDL and navigate the surface of the planet was discussed in depth, along with the concept for a program that could easily create a TANDEM vehicle based on certain specifications.

The talks finished up with a presentation from Ryan Adams on the current state and future plans of the NTRT. According to the presentation, the goals for the project consist of making it easier to use with examples and documentation and supporting more advanced tools to be used in the software.

Overall, the meeting was a wonderful opportunity for the Super-Releaser team to learn more about the field of tensegrity robotics and the state-of-the-art work being done in it.

-Aidan Leitch

Aidan Leitch