Inspired by nature, such swarms resemble social insects, such as ants and bees, that can efficiently search for and find food sources in large, complex environments, collectively transport large objects, and coordinate the building of nests and other structures.
Due to reasons of time, cost, and simplicity, the algorithms being developed today in research labs are only validated in computer simulation or using a few dozen robots at most.
In contrast, the design by Nagpal's team allows a single user to easily oversee the operation of a large Kilobot collective, including programming, powering on, and charging all robots, all of which would be difficult (if not impossible) using existing robotic systems.
So, what can you do with a thousand tiny little bots?
Robot swarms might one day tunnel through rubble to find survivors, monitor the environment and remove contaminants, and self-assemble to form support structures in collapsed buildings.
They could also be deployed to autonomously perform construction in dangerous environments, to assist with pollination of crops, or to conduct search and rescue operations.
For now, the Kilobots are designed to provide scientists with a physical testbed for advancing the understanding of collective behavior and realizing its potential to deliver solutions for a wide range of challenges.
Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute.
|Contact: Michael Rutter|