Using Differential Adhesion to Control Self-Assembly and Self-Repair of Collections of Modular Mobile Robots
This thesis presents a novel distributed control method which allows a collection of independently mobile robotic units, with two or three dimensional movement, to self-assemble into self-repairing hierarchical structures. The proposed method utilises a simple model of the cellular adhesion mechanisms observed in biological cells, allowing the robotic units to form virtually bonded aggregates which behave as predicted by Steinberg’s differential adhesion hypothesis. Simulated robotic units based on the design of the subaquatic HYDRON module are introduced as a possible platform on which the model can be implemented. The units are used to carry out a detailed investigation of the model behaviour and parameter space focusing on the two main tasks of rounding and sorting in both two and three dimensions. These tasks assess the model’s ability to reach a thermodynamically stable configuration when the aggregates consist of either a single population of units or multiple populations of units with differing adhesive properties. The results are analysed in detail with particular attention given to the role of random movements in determining the overall performance, and demonstrate that this model provides a very robust solution to these complex tasks. Finally, a possible extension of this work is presented in which the original model is combined with a genetic regulatory network controller. The performance of this composite is evaluated, and the benefits of this hybrid approach, in which a powerful control system manipulates a robust self-organising behaviour, are discussed.