Researchers at Columbia Engineering and MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have engineered for the first time a particle robotic swarm with individual components that function as a whole. The novel kind of robot has never been seen before. "You can think of our new robot as the proverbial "Gray Goo," said Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia Engineering. "Our robot has no single point of failure and no centralized control. It's still fairly primitive, but now we know that this fundamental robot paradigm is actually possible.
The cartoon superheroes were frustrated. They confronted a menacing robot that quickly repaired any damage they inflicted. It was made up of a swarm of microscopic robots - so-called nanobots - that could change its function and shape at will. Suddenly the swarm became fluid and flowed away. That cartoon scenario may seem entertaining.
Our work published today in Science Robotics describes how we grow fully self-organised shapes using a swarm of 300 coin-sized robots. The work was led by James Sharpe at EMBL and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona – together with my team at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and University of Bristol. Here's a video summarising the results, or you can read the paper here: Nature is capable of producing impressive functional shapes throughout embryonic development. Broadly, there are two ways to form these shapes. Cells have access to information about their position through some coordinate system, for example generated through their molecular gradients.
The robotics team at Utah State University has been working on incrementally building the capabilities needed to field an autonomous swarm of rescue robots. We believe a swarm of small, low-cost robots that can identify areas needing further investigation would be of great benefit to first responders to the scene of a disaster. Blue Swarm 3 is the latest iteration in this development process and is the first swarm to try to incorporate all of the capabilities needed for a fieldable rescue robot swarm. This paper discusses the philosophy behind Blue Swarm 3, the historical background behind the previous swarms, details of the design of Blue Swarm 3, the results of our efforts at this year's American Association for Artificial Intelligence Mobile Robot Competition, lessons learned, and plans for the future development of the Blue Swarm 3 and follow-on swarms.
We may not have figured out how to stop oil spills from happening, but the folks at SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT are one step closer to a solution to cleaning up the aftermath. Their newest project, a swarm of robots called SeaSwarm, proposes to skim the ocean surface and remove oil. The robots use "a photovoltaic-powered conveyor belt made of a thin nanowire mesh to propel itself and collect oil," MIT said in a statement. The first prototype was successfully tested in Boston's Charles River in August, and it responded well to the water's changing surface. The robots move on the water's surface autonomously, and the cells generate enough energy to keep the bots moving for a few weeks.