Swarm Bots: The Future of Robotics?

Posted on August 9, 2008

Instead of a solitary super-intelligent robot how about a swarm of fairly mindless robots cooperating with other swarm-bots to solve tasks? The BBC reports that swarm robots may someday be used for dangerous Mars missions or dangerous jobs here on Earth. The swarm-bots were recently featured at the Artificial Life XI conference.

Demonstrated at the conference the prototypes showed how swarm robots can independently divide up tasks, with no central program controlling them. They skitter around, communicating as they encounter each other via the same kind of infrared technology used in mobile phones.

Red and green lights on the robot were used to show which task they had chosen. After a short while, the group autonomously divided itself - 80% red and 20% green.

The swarm can cope with disruption too. If a handful of the "green" robots are removed from the arena, the remainder will redistribute themselves again into the 80/20 split.

Scientists say this flexibility gives swarm robotics an edge over traditional approaches for far-flung missions.

"You might have some complex robot that is sent to Mars, has a technical problem, and then the mission is basically over," said Klaus-Peter Zauner, the leader of the Southampton swarm robot project.

The article says swarm bots may also be useful for green technologies like solar farms, wave farms and wind farms. These green energy farms are likely to be an isolated areas and it could be very helpful to have swarm robots around to solve problems or remove and install new solar panels. You can read about one swarm-bot project here.

Telegraph.co.uk has another look at swarm bots inspired by social insects like ants and bees.

Update: February, 2015: Swarming bots and drones hold a lot of potential but they can also be frightening. Here's a video about a swarm of one thousand robots from IEEE Spectrum. A large-scale autonomous swarm could be used for self-assembly. Take a look:

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