In a cutting-edge laboratory within Boston University’s College of Engineering, a robot arm is engaged in a fascinating experiment. This robot arm is tasked with dropping small, plastic objects into a box strategically positioned on the ground to catch them as they descend. Each of these delicate structures, varying in color and size, is part of a study on robot autonomy and energy absorption efficiency. With each object it creates and crushes, the robot is learning and adapting its design to create the most energy-absorbing shape imaginable.

The driving force behind this groundbreaking research is Keith Brown, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and his team at KABlab. Their autonomous research robot, MAMA BEAR (Mechanics of Additively Manufactured Architectures Bayesian Experimental Autonomous Researcher), has been continuously evolving since its inception in 2018. Over the span of three years, MAMA BEAR has produced over 25,000 3D-printed structures, each one a variation of the last, aimed at maximizing mechanical energy absorption efficiency.

In a moment of triumph for the lab, MAMA BEAR achieved a record-breaking efficiency of 75% in energy absorption, surpassing the previous best-known structure’s 71% efficiency. The results of this remarkable achievement have been documented and published in Nature Communications, signaling a major milestone in the field of autonomous research robotics.

The implications of this research go beyond the confines of the laboratory. The data collected from MAMA BEAR’s experiments have already been utilized in designing new helmet padding for US Army soldiers. Collaborating with experts in various fields, Brown and his team are exploring the practical applications of their findings, including the development of innovative solutions for impact protection and energy absorption across diverse industries.

Aside from MAMA BEAR, Brown’s lab is home to an array of other autonomous research robots, each dedicated to a unique scientific endeavor. From the nano BEAR, which delves into material behavior at the molecular scale, to the PANDA BEAR, designed to test polymer materials for battery applications, Brown and his team are at the forefront of leveraging machine learning and automation for accelerated research capabilities.

As Brown and his colleagues continue to push the boundaries of autonomous research robotics, their quest for maximum efficiency remains ongoing. The sheer volume of data collected from MAMA BEAR’s experiments poses new possibilities for innovation and discovery. By collaborating with experts in varied fields and exploring new avenues for application, the KABlab aims to demonstrate the significant impact of autonomous research in accelerating scientific progress.

The evolution of autonomous research robots, spearheaded by Keith Brown and his team at Boston University, represents a transformative approach to scientific exploration. Through the fusion of robotics, machine learning, and automation, these robots are not only breaking records but also opening doors to new realms of possibility and discovery across diverse fields of research.


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