PhD thesis in Design of elementary blocks for programmable matter Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté

Design of elementary blocks for programmable matter

PhD thesis

36 month

1450 euros

Engineer or Master degree

Full time


Automatic control and micro-mechatronic systems department, AS2M, (FEMTO-ST institute), Besançon

Director : Philippe Lutz (

Co-supervisors :

Abdenbi Mohand-Ousaid (

Micky Rakotondrabe (,


This proposal is a part of ongoing project that aims to understand and build the elementary blocks for programmable matter. Known as modular robotics, this matter aims to provide options and capabilities in order to change one of its physical properieties like shape or locomotion in reaction to internal or external action [1]. Since its inception, there has been several research projects aimed at achieving this promise [2]. As an early example, Pr. Fukuda proposed one of the first concepts of modular robots called CEBOT. This latter is a dynamically reconfigurable robotic system based on a large number of autonomous robot units (cells), which are able to connect and communicate with each other. Following, many successful macro as well as micro modular robotic systems have been presented such as smart blocks [2], M-blocks [3], ATRON[4] and so on. Although, the mentioned systems have brought a significant and considerable progress, their development still poses real scientific challenges in terms of hardware and software. The first challenge concerns the module’s geometry and its actuation. These two aspects are important to produce small (about 1 cm diameter) reliable and actuated modules, without complex mechanical systems. Whilst, the second challenge aims to provide a new solution to program such a complex system through a scalable, real-time, efficient and at the same time safe programming of an ensemble of modules with an emphasis on self-configuration and self-reconfiguration distributed algorithms.

In the context of this PhD, only the first challenge will be investigated. The idea consists to associate an optimal geometry with an appropriate actuation mode. This combination will enable the elementary modules to latch, communicate and move in relationship to each other in order to adapt and optimize the whole shape. The successful applicant will inspire from the result presented in [1] where a quasi spherical geometry with different surfaces is employed. Such geometry allows ease module’s movements. However this configuration has some minor drawbacks. For example, the rotation possibilities of any module are limited since the rotation path is fixed by the geometry. To tackle these limitations, the applicant will focus on a geometry very close to sphere. With this configuration, all contact surfaces will have almost the same size in order to ease rotations of the modules. Local deformation will be also investigated in order to increase the contact surfaces and by the way the latching. Furthermore, topological optimization could be carried out to improve the modules’ geometry and reduce the weight of the structure. This step is especially interesting as rapid advancing on additive manufacturing (namely 3D printing) offers options and capabilities to fabricate complex structures in one operation without assembly.

To upgrade the resulted structure into a functional module, actuators and sensors are required. For this, a computer controlled magnetic [5] or electrostatic actuators could be used. The successful applicant will investigate these modes of actuation in terms of provided force and feasibility. Meanwhile, small resistances will be distributed on the surface in order to deform locally the module. Combining the effect of actuators and the resistances will allow the module to change its shape and ease its locomotion. Furthermore, modules should be able to communicate with each other since they are considered as basic element of programmable matter. To ensure this function, RF planar antenna or Hall effect could be employed. Therefore, the resulted module will be able to perceive and by the way interact with its environment. To ease this interaction, successful applicant will focus on the module’s relative locomotion. For that, he/she will define and select locomotion and control strategies that combine actuations modes in order to provide robust and repetitive module’s movements.


To summarize, the successful candidate will deal with the basic module of programmable matter in terms of geometry and actuation. Even though the geometry is known, he/she will carry out optimization to improve this shape and reduce its weight. Once the geometry is fixed, the actuators distribution will be analyzed in order to generate local deformation and maximize the provided force. In the meantime, module’s communication will be analyzed to provide perception capabilities in order to interact with their environment and to move in relationship to each other.



Candidate profile:

The candidate should have a major in mechatronics or a background in mechanics and automatic control.





[1] Benoit Piranda and Julien Bourgeois. Geometrical Study of a Quasi-Spherical Module for Building Programmable Matter. 13th International Symposium on Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems (DARS), In press, 2016.


[2] Benoit Piranda, Guillaume J. Laurent, Julien Bourgeois, Cédric Clévy, and Nadine Le Fort-Piat. A new concept of planar self-reconfigurable modular robot for conveying microparts. Mechatronics, 23(7):906–915, October 2013.


[3] John Romanishin, Kyle Gilpin, and Daniela Rus. M-blocks: Momentum-driven, magnetic modular robots. In IROS, pages 4288–4295. IEEE, 2013.


[4] Esben H Ostergaard, Kristian Kassow, Richard Beck, and Henrik Hautop Lund. Design of the atron lattice-based self-reconfigurable robot. Autonomous Robots, 21(2):165–183, 2006.


[5] RoerEkaPawinanto, JumrilYunas, MuzalifahMohd. Said, MimiwatyMohd. Noor and BurhanuddinYeop Majlis. Design and Fabrication of PCB Based Planar Micro-coil For Magnetic MEMS Actuator. In Semiconductor Electronics (ICSE), IEEE International Conference on, pp. 487-490, 2014.


The application must be sent as soon as possible to Sophie Aupet ( They should include:

- a detailed CV,

- a motivation letter with names of referees,

- marks obtained during the Master and/or engineering studies,

- and eventually, recommendation letters.


If you have questions regarding the application, please contact the thesis director and the supervisors.


If you apply for this position please say you saw it on Computeroxy

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