Robots that Cooperate and Self–Organize

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five Fingers Make a Fist

Professor Radhika Nagpal and Professor Fred Kavli from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have created a swarm of self–organizing robots.

Scientists for their project were inspired by the naturally occurring traits of ants or amoebas who work together to accomplish tasks that are too complex for a single individual. They named the collective robots as ‘Kilobots’. Kilobots function on a mathematical algorithm and can form any shape communicated to it by a computer scientist using an infrared light. The robots then begin to blink at one another and gradually arrange themselves into a five–pointed star. Most notably, the Kilobots do not require micromanagement or any other intervention once they are given the initial set of instructions.

Four robots mark the origin of a coordinate system whereas all the other robots receive a 2D image that they should mimic. Then, using very primitive behaviours such as following the edge of a group, tracking a distance from the origin and maintaining a sense of relative location they take turns in moving towards an acceptable position. In the process, they also correct their own mistakes. For example, if a traffic jam occurs or a robot moves off–course (errors that become much more common in a large group), the nearby robots sense the problem and cooperate to fix it.

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