Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Swarm-bots could boldly go where no man has gone before

09.11.2006
An award-winning IST research team has developed highly unusual mini-robots, or swarm-bots, that work as a team to overcome challenges. While their cooperative behaviour is inspired by the actions of the tiny ant, their abilities could eventually take them to outer space.

Imitating insects such as ants, highly mobile small robots can accomplish physical tasks that no individual robot of the same size could manage. But if more sophisticated versions appear, then such machines could complete coordinated tasks in a way that could revolutionise the way we think about our world today.

An IST project in the Future and Emerging Technologies programme called Swarm-bots has lead the field in this area, and as a result the project partners have gained a great deal of publicity for their work. Marco Dorigo of the Université Libre de Bruxelles coordinated the project, and explains what the team achieved.

“We produced thirty-five complete s-bots [the individual bots that make up one swarm-bot], and completed many experiments with them,” he says. Just 12 cm in diameter, these mini-robots are packed with computing power, sensors and actuators, he adds.

In one trial, the s-bots linked up to bridge and thus pass over a hole in the ground. In another they jointly carried objects too weighty for a single robot to handle.

Dorigo likens the job of cooperatively finding objects to ant behaviour, although ants of course create their trails using pheromones.

He continues, "In our most complex experiment, we placed 20 robots in a big room to retrieve one object to a ‘nest’. This involved building a chain of eight robots spaced thirty centimetres apart and visible to one another. The other robots followed the chain to find and retrieve the object, all in just ten minutes.”

Each robot carries sophisticated technology, including a panoramic camera, sensors that detect sound, infrared, light, temperature and humidity, motors for the grippers (or claws), and WiFi and USB connections. A unique feature of the s-bots is their ability to attach to one another using the grippers – researchers have tested both hard and flexible versions.

The project partners successfully created s-bot types ranging from single autonomous machines to larger ‘swarms’. They also tested robotic control for simple tasks. “Control was vital to the project,” says Dorigo. “The robots autonomously attach to each other and move around in coordination. Their tracks and wheels guide their directional movement. Though the robots do not talk among themselves, they receive low-level signals – such as individual push and pull forces – allowing coordinated group movement.”

In one experiment, three robots called on a control program or ‘controller’ to minimise the traction force. Wirelessly downloaded into the robots, the controller was not designed by human beings.

The Swarm-bots coordinator won a Marie Curie Excellence Award in 2003 for his research on ant-colony optimisation and ant algorithms. In 2005, he was also awarded Belgium’s FNRS Prize (Prix Dr A. De Leeuw-Damry-Bourlart) for his contributions to the foundation of the ‘swarm intelligence’ discipline.

What could these robots do if they move beyond prototypes? “They could help in disasters, for instance picking through earthquake rubble to find trapped people. They could also be built into homes and buildings, emerging when needed to check out the local environment by creeping along the floor, walls or ceilings,” he says.

The s-bots are still far from real-world applications. Yet they have caught the attention of NASA. Famous for its Mars lander exploits, that organisation is seriously interested in robotic technologies that could be used to construct structures on other planets, if necessary without external direction.

Dorigo says challenges lie ahead in programming and controlling robots like this: “Today they exhibit simple or reactive behaviour. We would like to do things such as adaptive task allocation, for example using only ten robots out of one hundred to solve a problem, rather than all of them together.”

Dorigo's wish list also includes using muscle-like materials, as found in nature, instead of rigid metal and plastic. Enhanced memory would also help, allowing machines to find their own solutions to problems after assessing their environment.

Some of these wishes may be addressed in Swarmanoid, a three-year follow-on project launched in October 2006. Dorigo, who is also coordinating this project, hopes to create three different kinds of advanced robots. Featuring open-source software, these super s-bots will crawl, climb or fly, working alone or together.

Jernett Karensen | alfa
Further information:
http://istresults.cordis.lu/

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Fraunhofer ISE Supports Market Development of Solar Thermal Power Plants in the MENA Region
21.02.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE

nachricht New tech for commercial Lithium-ion batteries finds they can be charged 5 times fast
20.02.2018 | University of Warwick

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Keen Sense for Molecules

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

“Laser Technology Live” at the AKL’18 International Laser Technology Congress in Aachen

23.02.2018 | Trade Fair News

Newly designed molecule binds nitrogen

23.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>