Dario Floreano, Jürg Markus Germann, Andrea Maesani, Manuel Stöckli
Modular or multi-cellular robots hold the promise to adapt their morphology to task and environment. However, research in modular robotics has traditionally been limited to mechanically non-adaptive systems due to hard building blocks and rigid connection mechanisms. To improve adaptation and global flexibility, we suggest the use of modules made of soft materials. Thanks to recent advances in fabrication techniques the development of soft robots without spatial or material constraints is now possible. In order to exploit this vast design space, computer simulations are a time and cost-efficient tool. However, there is currently no framework available that allows studying the dynamics of soft multi-cellular systems. In this work, we present our simulation framework named Soft Cell Simulator (SCS) that enables to study both mechanical design parameters as well as control problems of soft multi-cellular systems in an time-efficient yet globally accurate manner. Its main features are: (i) high simulation speed to test systems with a large number of cells (real-time up to 100 cells), (ii) large non-linear deformations without module self-penetration, (iii) tunability of module softness (0-500 N/m), (iv) physics-based module connectivity, (v) variability of module shape using internal actuators. We present results that validate the plausibility of the simulated soft cells, the scalability as well as the usability of the simulator. We suggest that this simulator helps to master and leverage the potential of the vast design space to generate novel soft multi-cellular robots.