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IROS 2021 - Prague

Modular and Reconfigurable Robot Mechatronics and Control: Challenges and Recent Advancements

Scheduled Live Session: September 27, 14:00 - 16:00 CEST


Nikos Tsagarakis

Main Organizer

Humanoids and Human Centered Mechatronics
Center for Robotics and Intelligent Systems
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.

Via S. Quirico, 19d - 16163 Genoa, Italy

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Tel: +39 010 2898 296

Andrea Giusti


Robotics and Intelligent Systems Engineering
Fraunhofer Italia Research

Via A. Volta 13a - 39100 Bolzano, Italy

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Tel: +39 340 4250 699

Stelian Coros


Computational Robotics Lab
ETH Zurich
Department of Computer Science

STD, H 25
Stampfenbachstrasse 48 (Sumatrastrasse 11)
8092 Zurich, Switzerland


Since its inception that traces back to the late ‘80s, the concept of modular and reconfigurable robotic systems (i.e. robots composed of interchangeable modules whose structures can be quickly reconfigured), promise a cross-sector radical change of automation practice by enabling highly flexible and resilient applications in e.g., industrial settings, space operations and exploration, agriculture and search and rescue scenarios. This is due to the benefits that this technology can bring in terms of optimization possibilities and quick adaptability with respect to changing tasks and environments, simple maintenance and down-time fault resilience, standardization of robot-modules’ production, better transport e.g., for usability in inaccessible environments. 

Despite these undoubtedly beneficial features, which are not present in classical fixed-configuration robots, modular and reconfigurable robotic systems still struggle to leave the research labs, with only few outstanding applications mostly limited to pilots. Although having enjoyed contributions from researchers worldwide over the last three decades, this technology still faces significant challenges in mechatronics design and control for wider sustainable real-world applicability. In fact, truly modular actuation, and communication technologies, non-bulky yet robust electro-mechanical interfaces allowing effortless engagement of modules, user-friendly task-driven assembly selection tools, quickly and automatically deployable motion planning and control tools and interfaces, and configuration dependent motion guarding tools for safe operations are among the open challenges that can still significantly limit adoption and effectiveness of this technology in applications. 

The resolution of these challenges still needs the best possible contribution of the robotics research community. Recently, new results in mechatronic system design and control with significantly improved components for reaching high power-to-weight ratios, the decrease of costs for highly accurate sensors, reliable high-bandwidth communication protocols and the vast computational resources available today, put us at the turning point for unleashing the potential of modular and reconfigurable robots’ technology and their application. The landscape of commercial solutions adopting the principles of modular reconfigurable robotics is populated by industrial pioneers such as Schunk GmbH, as well as more recent spin-offs from research groups world-wide such as HEBI Robotics, Inc. from Carnegie Mellon University and Kea Robotics GmbH from the Technical University of Munich.

In light of the above, this workshop aims at: i) bringing together researchers in the field of modular and reconfigurable robot mechatronics design and control, for presenting current results and discussing challenges, towards a boosted and coordinated action of the community for contributing to unleash modular and reconfigurable robots’ potentials; ii)offering interactive and brainstorming group sessions opportunities, thus permitting the generation of modern promising mechatronic design and control concepts for modular and reconfigurable robots; iii) offering the possibility to junior researchers and doctoral students for discussing their followed research directions and interact with researchers of higher seniority for both mechatronic system design and control aspects; iv) offering possibility also to researchers with mechatronic systems design and control background not directly related to modular robots to understand how their concepts and results could support stemming also modular robots’ open challenges.

Topics of interest

We envision organizing a full day workshop, which will consist of a mixture of presentations divided into several relevant topics including:
  • Modular actuation technologies
  • Robot body modules and modular mechatronics
  • Quickly engaged plug and play electromechanical interfaces
  • Reconfigurable robotic platforms
  • Modular collaborative robots and automation systems
  • Task driven synthesis of modular robots
  • Model-based control of modular and configurable robots
  • Adaptable motion planning for configurable robots
  • Automatic tuning of modular robot control and interfaces

Workshop Schedule

This year IROS workshops are organized as a series of pre-recorded talks and live interactive sessions. Abstracts and recorded videos of the talks will be available for the workshop audience. The live session of the workshop on Modular and Reconfigurable Robot Mechatronics and Control: Challenges and Recent Advancements is scheduled for September 27, 14:00–16:00 CEST and will be used for teaser presentations of the recorded talks and live interactions with the audience. Please check for latest updates at IROS 2021 workshops webpage

Invited Speakers

In the following table we report the list of speakers, along with their affiliation and the tentative title of their talks. All speakers have confirmed their participation to the workshop.
SpeakerAffiliationTentative talk of the title
Howie Choset
Carnegie Mellon University (US)
Generative networks for design and control of modular systems
Mark Yim
University of Pennsylvania (US)
Variable Topology Truss Reconfigurable Robots
Nikos Tsagarakis
Italian Institute of Technology (IT)
Variable Topology Truss Reconfigurable Robots
Manuel Catalano
University of Pisa (IT)
Modular robot bodies and mechatronics
Gregory Scott Chirikjian
National University of Singapore (SG)
Modular Building Blocks for a Self-Replicating Factory
Stelian Coros
ETH Zürich (CH)
Computational Algorithms for Modular Robots
Ulrik Pagh Schultz
University of Southern Denmark (DK)
Reversible control of modular robots
Andrea Giusti
Franhofer Italia (IT)
Model-based robust control of modular reconfigurable robots
Matthias Althoff
Technical University of Munich (DE)
Self-verification of modular robots


This workshop proposal is supported from the IEEE/RAS Technical Committee (TC) on Mechanisms and De-sign and the EC Project CONCERT under grant agreement No. 101016007.