A Bioinspired Robots Future
Meet Ankit Das
Robotics Engineer Graduate @ Arizona State University
Ankit is a Robotics Engineer who has worked on 3D CAD modeling and robot kinematics as a Graduate Researcher at the BIRTH Lab of Arizona State University (ASU).
He completed his B.Tech in Mechatronics Engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology, India, in 2019, with a Master's degree in Robotics & Autonomous Systems (Mechanical Engineering) from Arizona State University in 2021.
What inspired you to pursue a career in robotics?
The blaring sound and the flashy lights flickering on the toy robot slowly approaching me were my first tryst with robotics. All of three, I excitedly yelped to see the mechanical gait of my favorite toy.
Between then and now, I have had a series of robotic toys, cars, and DIY kits to experiment with mechanical engineering and robotics to understand the engineering behind them.
When growing up, I observed the tremendous potential of robotics in improving the living conditions in rural and urban areas. Also, the rising trend in industrial automation had timed perfectly with my growing curiosity to learn about automated products like industrial robots and autonomous vehicles.
All these factors influenced my decision to pursue a career in Robotics.
The first step was to complete a Bachelor’s degree, but due to the lack of a Robotics curriculum in India, I found my options limited.
Thankfully, I got admitted to the Mechatronics Engineering program at Manipal Institute of Technology. After completing my Bachelor’s degree, it was kind of obvious for me to dive deeper into the field of Robotics but again, the options are limited in India.
Hence, I decided to pursue a Master of Science degree in Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Arizona State University.
I graduated earlier this year, the next step is to get more industrial experience in Robotics, so I am waiting for the right opportunity to come my way.
What could bio-robotics improve in healthcare?
In the last decade, bio-inspired robotics has become a hot topic among researchers. We already see exoskeletons and prosthetics developed to replicate limb movement.
Robotic surgery has become very common nowadays. With technology developing every day, I am sure the applications would increase in the future.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the emphasis on using robots for medical needs has never been higher. By delivering medicines to sanitizing the work floors, robots have been beneficial. There are already efforts made to develop robots for drug delivery systems.
Any challenges working with robotics CAD models? And the solution?
The biggest challenge while designing a CAD model is to visualize it in real-life scenarios.
For example, I may design various parts and assemble them on the CAD modeling software, and everything might look perfect. Still, then, I fabricate the parts and physically make the details to notice assembly issues or mating issues. Thus, design for Assembly and Design for Manufacturing are two essential processes while designing the robot.
It is essential to consider the ease of assembling the parts after fabrication. For example, we cannot design a screw hole and then leave no space to use a screwdriver to tighten the screw.
These considerations play a big part in cutting the assembly time. Another factor to note is the tolerance of each component. A 3D printer or a CNC machine does not always operate with 100% precision.
The accuracy of these machines needs to be taken into account while designing the parts, especially those that are self-locking or interconnected with bolts and nuts.
That is why I usually add a little tolerance to the parts while designing them on the CAD modeling software, depending on the accuracy of the 3D printer or CNC machine.
Also, the transfer of knowledge and communication between designers during collaboration needs to be smooth, and this requires that all 3D CAD models and 2D drawings are in great detail.
Could the human body be swapped out with robot parts?
Yes. In the future, there is a possibility of robotic parts being incorporated into the human body, but, the question is to what extent can human parts or organs be replaced, and would humans be open to fit robotic parts in their bodies.
Currently, a lot of research on exoskeletons is happening. But, as I said, there is still time and research needed in replacing most of the healthy parts without interfering with the natural biology of the person.
Describe the importance of Bio-robotics in our society?
I will give an example of my research project—a bio-inspired robot designed to detect structural deformities in boiler tubes.
It is difficult for a person to physically reach areas in the boiler plant which are deemed dangerous.
So, a robot carries out the dirty tasks that humans cannot. Similarly, bio-inspired robots can be used in other applications to eliminate human intervention and make a living more efficient and sustainable.
Do you have any Robotics projects to share with us?
Yes, sure. For the last couple of years, I have been working on a Lizard-inspired Tube Inspection Robot to detect structural deformities in boiler tubes.
My job is to design the robot parts on SOLIDWORKS and then fabricate them for assembly and testing.
One lesson that I have learned during my time as a Graduate Researcher is that the first prototype is never the final one.
There is always a scope for improvement. While switching from a tendon-based actuation to a more robust gear-based actuation of the joints, a lot of research was put into maintaining the feasibility of the robot for the required application while also, improving its performance.
I have always strived for making systems modular to use them in different applications and scenarios and also, increase the product life cycle. The majority of my work has been towards Mechanical Design and that is what I intend to continue with in the future.
The best part of working on a robotics project is the collaboration of engineers from interdisciplinary backgrounds.
I have more of a Mechanical Engineering mindset, but I get to learn about control systems or computer vision from engineers with expertise in those fields. So, knowledge gets shared, and there is always a healthy discussion. Every day you get to learn something new.
What tools are the ones you most like for robotics development? And why?
I prefer SOLIDWORKS for creating the 3D CAD models and 2D drawings of the robot parts.
The UI is pretty simple and interactive, and it can handle large, complex assemblies with ease. ANSYS and SOLIDWORKS simulation are tools that I would use to get a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) done on the robot design.
ROS is another powerful tool when it comes to robotics. Even though I do not have extensive experience with Computer Vision, I have been introduced to ROS during my graduate coursework and completed academic projects on ROS and Gazebo.
How do you see the future of Bio-Robotics in the next five years?
With technology evolving with every passing day, I am sure there would be significant advancements in bio-inspired robotics. However, there are still quite a few organisms whose body features could inspire building robots for different applications.
Current robots would also need optimization to accommodate the growing needs of the industry.
Soft robotics is another area of research. New ways of developing soft robotic grippers are studied. In the next five years, bio-inspired robots would become more efficient and widespread than traditional robots in most applications.
Could be Bio-Robotics be the future of super soldiers and space exploration?
Absolutely. Exoskeletons developed carry most of a load of a soldier’s equipment and allow the soldier to move more freely and efficiently.
In addition, robotic arms attached to space rovers have helped in sample collection in space exploration.
The rovers are robust robotics designs created to allow to traverse rugged terrains in unknown territories.