Home Science Biology Robot swarms: unlocking the hive-mind?

Researchers have developed simple rules to permit elementary robots to interact and cooperate on tasks.

Based at the University of Sheffield, researchers have developed simple interaction rules for a fleet of 40 miniature robots in order to accomplish tasks such as moving an object.

A video of the Natural Robotics Lab's head, Dr Roderich Gross describing the team's work and demonstrating the robots' abilities is available here.

If for instance the robots are asked to group themselves together, just two rules are needed. If another robot is in front, stay put and turn on the spot. If not, move in a widening circle.

According to Dr Gross, "We are developing Artificial Intelligence to control robots in a variety of ways. The key is to work out what is the minimum amount of information needed by the robot to accomplish its task. That's important because it means the robot may not need any memory, and possibly not even a processing unit, so this technology could work for nanoscale robots, for example in medical applications."

The current robots are simple disks of about 10cm across but the intention is to develop all manner of robots from the very big to the very small. Suggested applications include military work and also search-and-rescue operations where the environment may be too hazardous for humans. Dr Gross also observes that such robot interactions may also be of value in industry to improve manufacturing processes and workplace safety.

This research builds on previous work at the University of Sheffield to understand the simplest set of rules to describe the interactions amongst bees.

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David Heath

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David Heath has over 25 years experience in the IT industry, specializing particularly in customer support, security and computer networking. Heath has worked previously as head of IT for The Television Shopping Network, as the network and desktop manager for Armstrong Jones (a major funds management organization) and has consulted into various Australian federal government agencies (including the Department of Immigration and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence). He has also served on various state, national and international committees for Novell Users International; he was also the organising chairman for the 1994 Novell Users' Conference in Brisbane. Heath is currently employed as an Instructional Designer, building technical training courses for industrial process control systems.

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