The world’s largest robotic swarm has been created using small, simple bots. For the first time, an army of more than 1000 robots has autonomously formed complex 2D shapes like stars or letters of the alphabet.The system, developed by Mike Rubenstein of Harvard University and his colleagues, is inspired by the way ants team up, for example to form rafts that keep them afloat or the way cells can band together to form the shape of an organ.
The simple bots, called Kilobots, have an onboard microcontroller, infrared sensors and transmitters for communication, and vibration motors that allow them to slide straight or turn. By flashing on and off, they can tell how far they are from nearby bots by measuring light intensity.
To do the assembling, the desired end shape is first transmitted to all the robots and then four stationary robots are positioned by hand to mark the shape’s starting point. Next, some of the robots start to shuffle until they reach a place-holding robot and then fan out from that point to stop in the right place. Each robot can only communicate with the others nearby. Successive robots build up the shape by stopping near the robots already in place.
Large swarms of robots could revolutionise construction, by allowing structures to build themselves, says Roderich Gross, a robotics lecturer at the University of Sheffield, UK, who recently acquired some Kilobots for his own research. They could also be useful for environmental monitoring, or even make their way inside humans, if they could be made small enough. “Swarms of micro-scale robots could travel inside the vascular network for non-invasive diagnosis and treatment,” says Gross.
Other applications for swarm robotics could include:
- Search and rescue missions
- Highway and building construction
- Special-purpose construction
- Building levees in flood zones, laying out sandbags
- Barriers around toxic chemical spills
- Supports in partially collapsed buildings
- Shelters in war zones
Read more at New Scientist
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If you’re looking to learn more about how robotics is shaping the future of society and business, we will be exploring this further at the RE.WORK Technology Summit on 18-19 September & at RE.WORK The Future of Robotics Forum on 14 October 2014.
At RE.WORK Technology Summit next month we’ll be holding a session covering swarm robotics with Sabine Hauert, Lecturer at the University of Bristol, where she designs swarm of nanobots for biomedical applications.
Before joining the University of Bristol, Sabine was a Human Frontier Science Program Cross-Disciplinary Fellow at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT where she designed cooperative nanoparticles for cancer treatment. Her passion for swarm engineering started in 2006 as a PhD student at EPFL Switzerland making swarms of flying robots for rescue operations. Passionate about science communication, Sabine is the Co-founder and President of the Robots Association, Co-founder of the ROBOTS Podcast and Robohub, as well as Media Editor for the journal Autonomous Robots.
Register & get more info here: https://www.re-work.co/events/tech
At the RE.WORK The Future of Robotics Forum, we’ll be discussing:
- Commercialising Robotics
- Public Perception
- Return on Investment
- Robots in Human Environments
- Future of Agriculture
- Manufacturing & Automation
- Assisted Living & Healthcare
Super Early Bird tickets end next week on 19 August! Visit the event page to register: https://www.re-work.co/workshops/future-of-robotics