Autonomous, Programmable Robot Swarms

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Autonomous, Programmable Robot Swarms

Most robots are designed to work independently or on a factory line, not as part of a team, leaving massive untapped opportunities for the emerging field of swarm robotics.

Key Insight

Autonomous robot swarms are coordinated and distributed to perform complex tasks in a more efficient way than a single robot or non-networked group of robots.

Why it matters

Most robots are designed to work independently or on a factory line, not as part of a team, leaving massive untapped opportunities for the emerging field of swarm robotics.

Examples

Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute are experimenting with different form factors drawn from nature. Last year, they developed robots that can autonomously drive interlocking steel sheet piles into soil. The end result: structures that could be someday be used as retaining walls or check dams for erosion control.

Another project, called Kilobots, involves 1,024 tiny robots working collectively to self-assemble and perform a programmed task. In 2018, Walmart filed a patent for robot bees, which would work collaboratively in teams to pollinate crops autonomously. If the project works at scale, it could potentially counterbalance the effects of the world’s honey bee population decline.

What’s Next

They’ll fly, crawl, self-assemble, and even swim. With enough swarm robotics projects now in the works, researchers are developing next-generation hive operating systems, which would communicate between robots working together on a mission and their human programmers.

The Impact

The possibilities for this technology are staggering: autonomous robot teams could be used to inspect dams and bridges, build complicated 3D structures, and lay protective barriers in the case of toxic chemical spills—freeing up their human counterparts and keeping them out of harm’s way.

Watchlist

Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, DARPA, MIT, NASA’s Robotics Alliance Project, the Academy of Optoelectronics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, University of California-Berkeley, University of Notre Dame, Walmart, Wyss Institute at Harvard.