Inspired by elephant trunks, mammalian tongues, and octopus arms, appendages which possess remarkable manipulation abilities without a typical skeletal structure, continuum robots seek to mimic the astonishing abilities of these organisms through designs which lack the rigid links which compose traditional robots. Just as an octopus explores under rocks and in dark holes by feeling with its arms, so also continuum trunks could be used in urban search and rescue operations in the unstructured, confined environments of collapsed buildings. Other applications include minimally-invasive surgery (colonoscopes, laparoscopes, and active cannulas) and industrial operations (nuclear reactor repair, sanding, etc.).
Current approaches to real-time operation of these robots begin by ignoring gravity loading, leading to the development of an analytical model for robot shape. However, the significant error due to this assumption in modeled verses actual shape causes the robot to significantly deviate from its commanded trajectory, precluding effective use of these manipulators. Therefore, the MSU Robotics Research Group's goal involves developing and applying models which incorporate gravity loading in order to significantly improve the ability of an operator to perform grasping, manipulation, and exploration tasks with continuum robots.
Papers written by the group detail our approach, while the robotics paper club keeps the group informed of the latest results in the robotics community.