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21 March 2024

King's reconfigurable robot wins prestigious best paper award

Based on a novel design harnessing the power of nature, ‘Origaker’ was awarded ‘Best Paper’ by the ASME Journal of Mechanisms and Robotics.

Origaker robot

Dr Emmanouil Spyrakos-Papastavridis and Professor Jian Dai from the Department of Engineering have received a prestigious ‘Best Paper’ award for their work designing Origaker, a quadrupedal robot capable of reconfiguring its shape by itself.

Described as making an “outstanding contribution to the field of mechanism and robotics” by editor-in-chief of the Journal of Mechanism and Robotics, Professor Venkat Krovi, ‘Origaker: A Novel Multi-Mimicry Quadruped Robot Based on a Metamorphic Mechanism’ presents an automaton able to transform between different modes of locomotion. By shifting between reptilian, arthropod or mammalian-like movement, without manual disassembly and reassembly, Origaker can traverse several different terrains and conquer challenging objects in its path.

In any problem it’s always worth tapping into the technology that already exists – for us, that’s nature."

Dr Emmanouil Spyrakos-Papastavridis

Autonomous robotics has its history in “quick change” parts for use in automotive production lines but has evolved since the 1970s to include applications like search and rescue, and physiotherapy, through reconfigurable exoskeletons for stroke rehabilitation, such as those developed by King’s.

An autonomous self-configurable robot may assume a dog-like gait to move quickly across an area of rubble, and then reassemble itself into the narrow form of a snake to navigate a pipe to a trapped civilian before sending an alarm for a rescue crew.

Asked why the researchers took influence from the way animals moved, Dr Spyrakos explained, “In any problem it’s always worth tapping into the technology that already exists – for us, that’s nature.

“Through the process of evolution animals have been made efficient, in terms of both locomotion and adaptability, over millions of years. They provide an indispensable blueprint for movement in specific environments and landscapes across the world, whether that be rocky terrain or swampland.

Origaker functions by mimicking and harnessing the efficacy of various animal gaits, so that these could be used in areas that might benefit humanity in critical scenarios, such as search and rescue efforts, healthcare (robotic rehabilitation), surveillance, and nuclear decommissioning.”

Consisting of a central trunk and four identical legs powered by a series of small motors, Origaker rotates these body parts to change its gait and working modes to adapt to its environment and can pitch vertically or twist horizontally. This also enables the robot to readjust itself and recover after falling, execute quick 360-degree turns, climb stairs, and squeeze into narrow gaps.

Going forward, the Origaker team hope to create a larger autonomously reconfigurable robot, with increased leg strength, that can traverse land, sea and sky, as well as climb trees.

By taking on a gliding form characteristic of a flying squirrel, the autonomous robot could play a key role in areas where dangerous environments prevent entry by more conventional means such as forest fire monitoring and advanced search and rescue.

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Jian Dai 2020

Emeritus Professor of Mechanisms and Robotics