Distributed manipulation effects motion on objects through alarge number of points of contact. The primary benefit of distributedmanipulators is that many small inexpensive mechanisms can move andtransport large heavy objects. In fact, each individual component issimple, but their combined effect is quite powerful. Furthermore,distributed manipulators are fault-tolerant because if one componentbreaks, the other components can compensate for the failure and thewhole system can still perform its task. Finally, distributedmanipulators can perform a variety of tasks in parallel.
Distributed manipulation can be performed by many types of mechanismsat different scales. Due to the recent advances of MEMS(micro-electro-mechanical system) technology, it has become feasibleto quickly manufacture distributed micro-manipulators at low cost. Onesuch system is an actuator array where hundreds of micro-scaledactuators transport and manipulate small objects that rest on them.Macroscopic versions of the actuator array have also been developedand analyzed. Another form of distributed manipulation is derived froma vibrating plate, and teams of mobile robots have been used to herdlarge objects into desired locations.
There are many fundamental issues involved in distributedmanipulation. Since a distributed manipulator has many actuators,distributed control strategies must be considered to effectivelymanipulate objects. A basic understanding of contact analysis betweenthe actuators and object must also be considered. When each actuatorin the array has a sensor, distributed sensing presents some basicresearch challenges. Distributed computation and communication are keyissues to enable the successful deployment of distributed manipulatorsinto use. Finally, the trade-off in centralized and de-centralizedapproaches in all of these algorithms must be investigated.