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Office of News and Information
212 Whitehead Hall / 3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2692
Phone: (410) 516-7160 / Fax (410) 516-5251

August 23, 1994
CONTACT: Ken Keatley

Hopkins Engineering Professor Wins
Presidential Faculty Fellow Award

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.

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 positions.

"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 said.

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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