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Disclaimer: These are sample project descriptions, and while the projects may stay the same, projects can change and final project assignments will be finalized after student acceptance to the program. This listing is a selection of projects that have been submitted by participating faculty. Some projects will have more than one student assigned.

Project Descriptions

Locomotion in Mobile Microrobots
Magnetic Control of Mobile Microrobots
Fabrication and Characteriztaion of Multifunctional Robotic Structures
Design and Programming of Flapping Modes for Miniature Robot Birds
Ultrasonic Micromotors and Millimotors
Cell Manipulation Using Optical Tweezers
Miniature Power Supplies for Autonomous Microrobots
Cooperative Swarming and Exploration with Tiny Terp MicroRobots
Bio-inspired Acoustic Homing and Navigation for Minaiture Robots
Autonomous Aerial Vehicle to the Rescue of Tiny Robots

Locomotion in Mobile Microrobots (Prof. Sarah Bergbreiter)
Insects display amazing locomotion capabilities at high speeds over rough surfaces strewn with obstacles. If microrobots could move in a similar fashion, they would be able to climb through rubble to find survivors after an earthquake or build impressive structures similar to ant and termite mounds. However, achieving the same feats with a microrobot 1 cm in size is not a trivial problem. As part of a project to improve the efficacy and efficiency of microrobot locomotion, REU students will investigate new robot designs through both simulation and experimental testing that can take advantage of features such as springy legs (to return energy) or added damping (to improve stability over rough terrain). This project will allow students to learn about the mechanics and dynamics of a running microrobot or insect in addition to new techniques used to fabricate robots only a centimeter or two in size.

Magnetic Control of Mobile Microrobots (Prof. Sarah Bergbreiter)
One way to better study locomotion in millimeter-scale robotics is to provide off-board actuation through magnetic fields. In this case legs, wings, or other mechanisms are composed of magnetic materials that will either align with a magnetic field or move forward given a magnetic gradient. By controlling the magnetic field appropriately, legs or wings can be actuated to drive a robot forward and study its behavior. This project will allow students to learn about mechanism design and magnetic actuation at millimeter scales in addition to new techniques used to fabricate robots only a centimeter or two in size.

Improved Fabrication and Design of Compliant Multifunctional Robotic Structures (Profs. Hugh Bruck and S.K. Gupta)
The development of multifunctional structures for robotics has focused on integrating electronic components into conventional structures. For example, in robot birds, solar cells can be integrated into wing structures to harvest solar energy while generating thrust and lift. However, the fabrication and design of these structures requires more complex structural and materials than conventional structures. Therefore, improvements are needed in the integration of these complex materials and their distribution in the structure to maintain compliance. In particular, scalable concepts require understanding how changing the size of the structure changes the fabrication and design strategies. This research opportunity provides a student with experience using computational design analysis and advanced composite structure fabrication techniques to realize novel compliant multifunctional structures.

Design and Programming of Flapping Modes for Miniature Robot Birds (Profs. Hugh Bruck and S.K. Gupta)
Flapping wing miniature robot birds are an attractive robotic platform because of their scalability, maneuverability, and durability. However, much of the emphasis on their development has focused simply on simple flapping modes that limit performance. We have a novel miniature robot bird platform whose flapping modes can be easily varied. Thus, it is possible to design and program flapping modes that can enable acrobatics that conventional robot birds can not achieve. This research opportunity provides students with experience programming a robot bird to design flapping modes whose performance they will be able to assess to determine fundamental flight relationships that have yet to be established by the scientific community.

Ultrasonic Micromotors and Millimotors (Prof. Don DeVoe)
There is a need for low-cost and high-torque rotary actuators for applications ranging from small unmanned aerial vehicles (e.g. propulsion, control surface actuation, sensor positioning, weapons targeting) to medical robotics (e.g. endoscope/catheter imaging actuators) and beyond. A new class of ultrasonic micromotor, which employs high-frequency traveling waves within an elastic stator to transfer momentum to a coupled rotor element, has been developed using both thin film and bulk piezoelectric materials for "wire-free" actuation of a catheter-based intravascular imaging probe. In this project, students will help implement the integrated catheter actuator/probe system, explore digital control schemes for signal delivery to the actuator elements, and develop next-generation micromotor designs for related robotics applications.

Robotic Manipulation of Sensitive Cells Using Optical Tweezers (Prof. S.K. Gupta)
Cell manipulation is crucial in many emerging biological and medical applications. Different medical operations, for example, diagnosis, therapy, drug delivery etc. can be significantly improved by deploying specialized robotic technologies for manipulating cells. Optical Tweezers is a wonderful cell manipulation instrument that uses laser beam to grip a cell and transport it precisely to a desired location without any physical contact. However, most of the optical tweezers are operated manually which makes the cell manipulation very slow. Moreover, direct exposure of laser can cause photodamage to the cell. In this project the REU student will have an opportunity to learn how different robotic techniques can be used to automate the cell manipulation process using optical tweezers while protecting them from high intensity laser. As a part of the project, the student will learn and implement different motion planning as well as image processing algorithms and test them in our Optical Tweezers set-up to automatically manipulate different kind of sensitive cells (e.g. Dictyostelium discoideum, Human epithelial cells etc.).

(a) Optical Tweezers setup

(b) Dictyostelium discoideum cells are arranged in different pattern (i.e. English letter 'A', Smiley face) to study their inter-cellular signals

Miniature Power Supplies for Autonomous Microrobots (Prof. Alireza Khaligh)
At larger scales, robots simply use DC motors or servos connected directly to lithium polymer batteries for power with high resulting efficiencies. The challenge at smaller scales stems from the fact that the most efficient microactuation technologies (piezoelectric and electrostatic) operate at high voltages or in voltage-mode actuation. The REU students working on this project will investigate innovative boost type PEIs suitable for miniaturization with higher efficiencies. They will be familiar with the modeling and simulation of power electronic systems. They will analyze various energy management strategies to enhance the efficiency of the PEI and ultimately enhance the autonomous operation of the microrobots.

Cooperative Swarming and Exploration with TinyTeRP Miniature Robots (Profs. Derek Paley and Sarah Bergbreiter)
The long-term goal of this project is to create tiny, autonomous robots that can operate cooperatively and autonomously as a distributed mobile sensor network. The specific research objective is to apply tools from control and estimation theory to design motion coordination algorithms for the TinyTeRPs robotic platform. The technical approach to reach this objective will be (1) to mathematically model the sensing, actuation, and motion capabilities of the TinyTeRPs robotic platform, including the inter-vehicle sensing/communication capabilities; (2) design a feedback algorithm to achieve coordinated motion such as swarming and cooperative exploration by steering control; and (3) implement the control algorithm on the TinyTeRPs platform and conduct experimental demonstrations in a laboratory environment. Of particular interest will be definition and evaluation of collective performance metric, such as area covered, in order to illustrate the performance boost obtained using cooperative control as opposed to non-cooperating or randomized steering patterns. The project has broader applications to future robotic missions in natural disaster relief, homeland security, national defense, and hazardous material release.

Bio-inspired Acoustic Homing and Navigation for Miniature Robots (Prof. Miao Yu)
The survival of animals depends on their effectiveness in collecting sufficient and timely information about their ever-changing environment and on their ability to act upon sensory information. For mobile autonomous robots and vehicles (such as micro air vehicles (MAVs)), analogous capabilities are desirable, but far from being well developed. Specifically, miniature robots equipped with directional hearing and sound localization ability can locate objects within a full 360 degree field-of-view even in a dark environment (e.g., at night), which is a remarkable improvement over vision field-of-view that is restricted to be less than 180 degrees. Researchers have found that the fly Ormia utilizes a unique localization-lateralization scheme for achieving superior sound localization precision. In this undergraduate research project, the students will study an off-the-shelf small robot equipped with fly-ear inspired miniature directional microphones (previously developed by Prof. Yu’s group) for acoustic localization, homing, and navigation. A simple, yet effective acoustic localization algorithm inspired by the fly’s localization/lateralization scheme will be implemented and tested for robotic acoustic localization. Specific research tasks including sensor instrumentation, integration of sensors with robots, testing the implementation of the bio-inspired algorithms, and characterization of the system performance for localization, homing, and navigation. The student will gain hands on experience with bio-inspired sensors and learn controls and dynamics in this project.


Autonomous Aerial Vehicle to the Rescue of Tiny Robots (Prof. Nuno Martins)
This project will be hosted in the CPS and Cooperative Autonomy Laboratory. The aim of the project is to devise software and algorithms to achieve two goals: 1) to have a collection of small robots rendezvous in a meeting point 2) have the small robots lifted and relocated to a "safe" place by a quadrotor. This will be an interesting and challenging project that will involve robotics, vision and smart algorithms.


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