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August 23, 1994
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Ken Keatley
Hopkins Engineering Professor Wins
Gregory S. Chirikjian, an assistant professor of mechanical
engineering in the G.W.C. Whiting School of Engineering at The
Johns Hopkins University, has been granted a 1994 Presidential
Faculty Fellow Award from the National Science Foundation.
Faculty Fellow Award
The award, designed to support the work of outstanding
faculty early in their careers, provides an annual $100,000 grant
for five years. Only 15 awards are made each year in engineering,
and a faculty member from Hopkins has been granted one each year
since 1992, when Associate Professor David T. Yue of biomedical
engineering was honored. Jerry L. Prince, an associate professor
of electrical and computer engineering, was honored in 1993.
Dr. Chirikjian, 28, specializes in robotics. He and his
research team are working on a number of projects involving
hyper-redundant manipulators, a type of robot that has the
ability and versatility to configure into millions of
"Robots should not be looked at as things that would replace
humans, but as tools that facilitate the work they do," said Dr.
Chirikjian. "They can also be useful in an environment that you
would not want humans to enter. So, it's important to use simple
principles of mechanics in the design of robots so that they work
reliably without human intervention."
One such design of his is an 8-foot-long, snake-like, binary
robotic arm. Powered by compressed air and controlled by a
computer, the three pneumatic pistons driving the arm can
manipulate it into 33,000 positions. Most conventional robotic
manipulators have a continuous range-of-motion and are driven by
sophisticated motors and computers that are quite costly. Binary
manipulators have the potential to be very inexpensive.
"Many robots in the early 1980s were disappointing; they
were expensive and limited in what they could do," explained Dr.
Chirikjian. "Through our research, we're developing broadly
applicable ideas that will result in cost-effective products."
He foresees versions of the arm being used to slither
through a nuclear reactor to detect leaks, pluck a wayward
satellite from space, or inch through arteries during surgery.
Dr. Chirikjian is also developing a spatial platform
manipulator, a 3-D version of the binary arm that he likens to an
elephant's trunk. Its three platforms of six "legs" driven by
pneumatic pistons can in theory be configured 64 billion ways.
"The real test is developing computer algorithms to
determine which is best for a given task," Dr. Chirikjian
Another project is his work in developing hexagon-shaped
modules for a metamorphic robot, which will be able to form loops
and branches. Currently, a computer program simulates the robot's
movements; ultimately, this simulation will be translated into
reality, and an engineer will be able to instruct the robot to
unfurl over a road to serve as a bridge, or group its hexagons
into a mass to buttress a collapsed ceiling.
"I love working out the fundamental mathematical and
engineering issues, then building small prototypes," said Dr.
Chirikjian. "Let someone else build big complicated systems."
Dr. Chirikjian graduated from Hopkins in 1988 with a
bachelor's degree in mathematics, a bachelor's degree in
engineering mechanics and a master's degree in mechanical
engineering. He graduated from the California Institute of
Technology in 1992 with a doctorate in applied mechanics, and
joined the Hopkins faculty that year.
His honors include a 1993 NSF Young Investigator Award, an
outstanding paper award at the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers Robotics and Automation Conference and a
NASA Certificate of Recognition.
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