This summer I worked on TrussBot: an origami-inspired modular robot comprised of tetrahedra. Collaborating with Dr. Randall Kamien and his resident artist Mike Tanis, who created the original structure made of string and straws, our aim is to create a pipe-climbing robot whose radius is dynamic.
My part of the project was the fabrication of the actual robot. Using the CAD software OpenSCAD, I created a rigid model of the tetrahedron. We want our robot to be rigid as opposed to the original string and straw design. We could achieve this through 3D printing and rigid body registration. The rigid body registration were the calculations that helped me with the rotation and translation of certain parts of the design.
One challenge was figuring out how to connect these tetrahedra together. We found that a ball and socket approach would be useful, since it could simply be 3D printed. 3D printing the ball and socket proved more difficult than I had thought, due to the variance of certain 3D printers’ resolutions. Eventually, we found a printer with a resolution that was consistent, and we created “caps” of the sockets with holes for rods to connect them.
Through my research experience, I learned that everything one does will advance the project. I came up with a design we ended up not using, but that design aided me in the creation of the new design. Additionally, I learned how to break down problems that seem impossible. I personally didn’t really know what research was when I came to Penn, and through this experience, I understand that research can be fast-paced during some weeks, or slow when trying to find a new direction or idea for the project.
This research experience not only gave me a valuable connection with a fantastic professor, but also the opportunity to apply what I have learned in the classroom. I have learned skills that cannot be taught in a lecture, and topics that I never would have dreamed that I would understand.