IROS 2011 Workshop (SW9)

Reconfigurable Modular Robotics:
Challenges of Mechatronic and Bio-Chemo-Hybrid Systems

Modular robotics pursues the goals of versatility, robustness, and low cost achieved by employing a modular architecture where robots are assembled from a basic set of constituent modules. The modular robotics community comes together annually to share new developments and discuss the future research directions of the field. This year’s meeting is planned as a full-day workshop at IROS11. We intend to extend the scope of this year’s workshop to reflect recent research trends and include new topics in soft/bio/chemo-hybrid systems, in addition to the more conventional topics in self-reconfiguring robots.


  9:00 - 9:10 Welcome and introduction
  9:10 - 9:35 “Remotely Controllable Microcapsules for Site-Specific Delivery of a Chemical Payload” by Jitka Čejková, Viola Tokárová, Anna Pittermannová, František Štěpánek [pdf]
  9:35 - 10:00 “Synchronized and Reconfigurable Motion of Molecular (Quantum) Robots: A Field-Theoretic Approach” by Hermann Haken, Paul Levi [pdf]
  10:00 - 10:20 Break
  10:20 - 10:45 “Current Topics in Classic Self-Reconfigurable Robot Research” by Kasper Stoy and Haruhisa Kurokawa [pdf]
  10:45 - 11:10 “The First Connection System for Modular Underwater Bio-inspired Robots” by S. Mintchev, C. Stefanini, S. Marrazza, S. Orofino, L. Manfredi, and P. Dario [pdf]
  11:10 - 11:35 “The X-CLAW Self-Aligning Connector for Self-Reconfiguring Modular Robots” by Jin Jin Cong, Robert Fitch [pdf]
  11:35 - 12:00 “Wireless Communication and Power Transfer in Modular Robots” by Maria del Pilar Olmos Cabrera, Ruslan S. Trifonov, Guillem Arimany Castells, and Kasper Stoy [pdf]
  12:00 - 1:00 Lunch
  1:00 - 1:25 “The Assemble and Animate Control Framework for Modular Reconfigurable Robots” by David Johan Christensen, Ulrik Pagh Schultz, and Mikael Moghadam [pdf]
  1:25 - 1:50 “Discovering Near-Optimal Communication Network for Modular Robots” by Harris Chi Ho Chiu and Wei-Min Shen [pdf]
  1:50 - 2:15 “Robotic Organisms - Artificial Homeostatic Hormone System and Virtual Embryogenesis as Examples for Adaptive Reaction-Diffusion Controllers” by Thomas Schmickl, Ronald Thenius, Juergen Stradner, Heiko Hamann, Karl Crailsheim [pdf]
  2:15 - 2:40 “Autonomous Adaptation to Simultaneous Unexpected Changes in Modular Robots” by Nadeesha Ranasinghe, Wei-Min Shen [pdf]
  2:40 - 3:05 “Distributed Multi-Robot Algorithms for the TERMES 3D Collective Construction System” by Justin Werfel, Kirstin Petersen, and Radhika Nagpal [pdf]
  3:05 - 3:20 Break
  3:20 - 3:55 Invited talk: "Self-Assembly by Disassembly," Prof. Daniela Rus, Director of the CSAIL Center for Robotics, MIT
  3:55 - 4:20 “Heterogeneity for Increasing Performance and Reliability of Self-Reconfigurable Multi-Robot Organisms” by S. Kernbach, F. Schlachter, R. Humza, J. Liedke, S. Popesku, S. Russo, T. Ranzani, L. Manfredi, C. Stefanini, R. Matthias, Ch. Schwarzer, B. Girault, P. Alschbach, E. Meister, O. Scholz [pdf]
  4:20 - 4:45 “Bringing Reality to Evolution of Modular Robots: Bio-inspired Techniques for Building a Simulation Environment in the SYMBRION Project” by Martin Saska and Vojtech Vonasek and Miroslav Kulich and Daniel Fiser and Jaouhar Jemai and Libor Preucil [pdf]
  4:45 - 5:10 “First Steps towards a Heterogeneous Modular Robotic Architecture for for Intelligent Industrial Operation” by A. Faiña, F. Orjales, F. Bellas, and R. J. Duro [pdf]
  5:10 Workshop concludes

Motivation and objectives

Modularity and reconfiguration are key concepts that enable nature as well as engineers to construct large systems reliably and economically. In contrast most robots today are built monolithically, therefore, the goal of modular robotics is to introduce modularity into robotics and thereby reap the advantages of a modular design. A modular design allows a wide range of robots to be assembled from a basic set of modules. If modules break they can easily be replaced by spare modules. The cost of the entire system can be reduced because individual modules can be mass-produced. Further, current developments in bio-, chemo- and material science- inspired communities are enabled using new principles of multicellular and layered self-assembly and properties of materials. These developments are leading to new application domains of reconfigurable systems and new challenges for the robotics community.

Specific research challenges for modular robots include the dynamic topology of the network of modules, the limited resource (power, size, torque, precisions, etc.) of individual modules, the difficulties in global synchronization, the exclusion of centralized decision makers, the unreliability of communication among modules, minimalistic sensing and actuation capabilities of robots. This workshop will present the recent progress in the research community for these challenging tasks and their real-world applications in space and other related fields. We will present and discuss the latest hardware progress, distributed control software, plug-and-play mechatronics, topology-triggered behaviors, and theories of self-reconfiguration.

We welcome all participants from universities, research labs, industrial companies, and government agencies, who are interested in either research such as modular robots, embedded systems, distributed control, sensor networks, coupling mechanisms, mechatronics, robot swarms, artificial chemistry, minimal cells, multi-cellular systems, or applications such as space, underwater, fluidic or other complex and difficult environments.

List of topics

  • Hardware: novel mechanics and electronics
  • Sensing and perception in modular systems
  • Behaviors for modular robots
  • Distributed control and programming
  • Plug-and-play mechatronics
  • Different multi-cellular systems
  • Self-assembly on macro- and micro-scales
  • Artificial embryogenesis, morphing, structural self-organization
  • Molecular, chemical, and material science-inspired works towards reconfigurable systems
  • New challenges for future modular robots

Submission Instructions (now closed)

Presentations will also be chosen from submitted papers. The outcome of the workshop will be a set of extended abstracts in a citable digital archive. Please submit your papers via email to the organizers: {serge.kernbach at, rfitch at}. Papers should be 4-6 pages in conference format. The best contributions from the workshop will also be invited to submit their extended papers into a special journal issue on reconfigurable robotics.

Paper/extended abstract submission deadline: 24 June  2011
Notification of acceptance: 1 July 2011
Submission of final papers: 15 July 2011


Serge Kernbach (University of Stuttgart) - serge.kernbach at
Robert Fitch (ACFR, University of Sydney) - rfitch at

Committee members

Wei-Min Shen (USC ISI)
Kasper Stoy (University of Southern Denmark)
Radhika Nagpal (Harvard University)