Swarm Robotics: Kilobots and Bionic Ants

Kilobots Used in Swarm Robotics

Kilobot Robot Swarm By asuscreative (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Why is it that swarms of small creatures such as ants can accomplish big tasks?  How are they able to kill a large insect or even a small animal and then bring it into their nest?  It turns out the answer to this question is one that can be applied to the world of robotics.  Scientists and engineers are programming robots with this swarming ability in order to study how a very simple machine in large numbers can accomplish a complex job.  Two examples of bots used in swarm robotics are Kilobots and bionic ants.

Researchers at Harvard University built a Kilobot for swarm robotics research for $14 a robot. Usually to have a robot this size for study is very expensive per robot, but they managed to do it for very low cost per unit. In their paper on the Kilibot, they explain where and how they were able to cut cost and yet, still be able to have an effective robot for research. The robot uses vibration for movement, and is powered by a coin cell battery. Check out the site for some interesting video demonstrations of their 25 Kilobots.

“…we present Kilobot, a low-cost robot designed to make testing collective algorithms on hundreds or thousands of robots accessible to robotics researchers.”

Another group that has experimented with swarm robotics is Festo.  They invented bionic ants and have created a Bionic Learning Network.  By using the models that nature provides, Festo is developing the technology to aid in the automation of factories.

Festo has created a fleet of bionic ants capable of working together, as well as function on their own, in order to complete tasks, just as their real-life counterparts do, according to Business Insider.

One major theme of swarm robotics development continues to be the idea of using nature as the model for new and innovative types of swarm robots.  Most of the ideas come from biomimicry or biomimetics.  Biomimetics is the science or practice of using living creatures as inspiration for mechanical design.  The end result is that there seems to be no end to the types of bots that can be built using nature as a blueprint.

Robots continue to take inspiration from different creatures in the way they look and operate, including insects thanks to an automation company in Germany.

What is your opinion about swarm robotics?  What other applications besides those presented here could they be used in?  Please write your comments to this post and let me know what you think.

Source: Bionic Ants Designed To Function Independently And In Teams 

For more ideas of what these bots are good for, check out this post by Mike Henry.

 

Robotic Swans

Robotic Swan

Photo © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

There seems to be no end to the types of robots inspired by nature.  This story about robotic swans had its start in an article that appeared in Tech Times several days ago.  As I thought about how to write about these “swanbots”, I did some research about robotic swans and found that this application is not the first use of swans as a model for robot development.

In fact, the first “robotic” swan was probably this Silver Swan  pictured here to the left.  The machine was conceived and constructed by John Joseph Merlin in partnership with the London inventor James Cox in 1773.  It is more accurately an automaton, in that it worked by means of a clockwork mechanism.  An automaton is a self-operating machine… designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations…

And then we have our second robotic Swan, the dancing Swan, also known as the Dying Swan.  This Swan robot was built to dance to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”  As those who have seen it dance describe it,

‘The Dying Swan’ is sometimes moving smoothly and gently, sometimes in a dramatic and fiery manner, as Tchaikovsky’s majestic music from the ballet Swan Lake is playing; yet this is no ordinary ballet dancer, but a robot in the form of a swan.”

Finally, there is are there is the third type of robot Swan that was in the original article that inspired this post.  This is the robot Swan that gathers information about the environment of the water where it swims.  Scientists will start testing robot swans in the Singapore River that will test and monitor the waters for things like pH level and oxygen to control pollution.

Nature has once again provided a model for robotics.  In this case three wildly different types of robots based on the model of a Swan.  If this is a topic that you find interesting please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Sources:

Wikipedia, Silver Swan (automaton)

Wikipedia, Automaton

ScienceDaily, Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotion

EurekAlert, Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotion

Popular Science, Robotic Swan Majestically Dances to ‘Swan Lake,’ Moving Viewers to Tears

TechTimes, Robot Swans Swim Singapore River To Test And Monitor The Waters In Real-Time

Hopping Robot Has Soft Outer Layer with Metal Insides

Image

Origami Frog

An origami frog is not able to jump or even move at all unassisted.  It is folded from a single piece of paper as in the image at the left.  However, engineers at two universities have come up with a jumping robot that is something amazing.  About all it has in common with a real frog is that it has a soft body and the ability to hop.  That is because the robotic hopper has a soft outside and a metal interior and is made of 3-D printed parts.

Scientists at Harvard University and UC San Diego have created the first robot with a 3D-printed body that transitions from an outer layer that is soft to the touch into a rigid metal core.  (The Christian Science Monitor – Science Notebook)

So far in tests, the robots have proven to be durable and powerful.  The engineers have demonstrated that the bots can hop about 2.5 feet high and last for more than 30 jumps.

Engineers have designed and built a frog-like jumping robot that incorporates hard and soft parts — and they’ve done it with a 3D printer.  (Los Angeles Times – Science Now)

What applications may this robotic hopper have in the future?  The engineers reported in the journal Science that the primary applications in the search and rescue field.  But, because it is designed to have a soft exterior, it may also be able to operate around humans more safely that a robot with a hard metal exterior.

Biologically inspired robots continue to be a mainstay for robotic designs.  This is only one of the latest in the field of biomimetics.  Many robots fall into this category.  There have been snakebots, robofish, and now a frog-inspired robot.

Let RobotNext know what you think about this.

Sources:

Los Angeles Times,  Watch it jump! 3D-printed hopper could lead to better rescue robots

The Christian Science Monitor, Hopping 3-D printed robot has soft exterior, heart of metal

Plants May Supply Unique Materials for Robotic Actuators

Robotic Apple with WormIt’s always fascinating to me that one of the best sources for new ideas in robotics is nature.  Here is another case where living organisms have provided a model for mechanisms in a robot.  In this article from Nanowerk News (click the link below for the full article),  the research leading to this application is detailed.

There are many examples of robots built on the basis of some animal, insect, or plant.  Some examples are snakebots, robofish, and even robobees.  Nature is simply one of the best models for roboticists to follow.

What is your favorite biomimetic robot?  Let me know your ideas.

Engineers developing moveable robot components may soon take advantage of a trick plants use. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and Harvard University in Cambridge (USA) have devised porous materials that could serve as actuators, or motors.

Read More: Materials modelled after plants may help robots to move more naturally

Source:  Nanowerk

Robots Use Tricks From Nature to Climb Walls

The latest projects of Amir Shapiro, head of the robotics laboratory in the Department of Engineering, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheeba, Israel, are wall-climbers.  In keeping with an on-going theme of RobotNext, this article is about the robot/nature connection.  These robots are using techniques from nature to defy gravity.   One robot is based on the method that snails use in attaching to a vertical surface.  However, instead of mucus, the bots secrete a trail of glue to enable them to stick as they ascend the walls.  Another robot, this one inspired by cats and rodents, has four appendages with fishhook claws to assist  it’s climb up a rough surface.

A third robot uses a not-so-natural method of sticky tape on its wheels to climb vertical, smooth surfaces.  You can see this demonstrated in the video on the PhysOrg website.  The fourth is magnetic and can climb smooth metal surfaces such as a white board

Dr. Shapiro works in the area of research known as biomimetics, which involves using technology to mimic nature.  This field has produced many diverse types of robots such as climbing robots, grasshoppers, and snakes.  Check the links below to see the whole story on these climbing robots.

 PhysOrg.com

(PhysOrg.com) — A robotics scientist from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheeba, Israel, has developed four different kinds of robots that climb
See all stories on this topic

Robots climb up the wall (w/ Video)
PhysOrg.com
Tue, 19 Jan 2010 13:09:21 GMT

Animal Kingdom Inspires Robot Design

Robots modeled on nature are fascinating.  Many of the next important design breakthroughs in robotics will probably come from research labs that are working in the area of biomimetics.  This article from the MIT News relates two robot innovations from Sangbae Kim of the Biomimetic Robot Lab of MIT.  First, is a robot called Stickybot that can climb very smooth walls.  Stickybot’s feet are based on the Gecko and use an unusual property called directional adhesion. In other words, the feet are sticky in only one direction.  This means that the feet can detach as easily as they adhere.  You can click on the link under the thumbnail to see a larger version of the photo.  The second project will be to develop a robot that will use the design of a cheetah’s backbone to reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.  Read about these incredible robot designs at the links below.


MIT News

From nature, robots
MIT News
To a robot designer like Sangbae Kim, the animal kingdom is full of inspiration.
"I always look at animals and ask why they are the way they are," says Kim, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

From nature, robots – MIT News
Fri, 25 Sep 2009 05:09:13 GMT

Weekly Newswrap

This week’s RobotNext Newswrap brings you five stories with a robot-animal theme.  In the case of the Bloodbot from Thursday, it was not built to mimic a vampire bat, the story only makes that connection to express what might be a common fear about this machine.  And, the pet care robot does not recreate an animal, it is designed to take care of your animal.  The other three stories are all about biomimetics.  There are Panda robots, a robot arm modeled after an octopus arm, and a robotic guide dog concept.  Check out the stories at the links below.

Taiwan lab develops panda robot

… of scientists hopes to add new dimensions to the island's reputation as a high-tech power. The Centre for Intelligent Robots Research aims to develop pandas that are friendlier and more artistically endowed than their endangered real-life …

Taiwan lab develops panda robot
Sat, 19 Sep 2009 04:15:51 GMT

Bloodbot combines your worst vampire and robot fears » Coolest Gadgets

Bloodbot combines your worst vampire and robot fears on Coolest Gadgets.
Coolest Gadgets – http://www.coolest-gadgets.com/

Bloodbot combines your worst vampire and robot fears » Coolest Gadgets
Mark R
Thu, 17 Sep 2009 00:41:16 GMT

Acrobatic Octopus Arm Could Be Model for Flexible Robots – Wired News  

Acrobatic Octopus Arm Could Be Model for Flexible Robots
Wired News
“This is very important for robotics. If you build a robot with many degrees of freedom, it becomes very difficult to control.” said Laschi, who was not

Acrobatic Octopus Arm Could Be Model for Flexible Robots – Wired News
Thu, 17 Sep 2009 22:47:55 GMT

Michigan Students to Develop RFID-enabled Robotic Guide Dog

After developing an RFID-enabled cane, Central Michigan University students hope to use what they've learned to create a robot that can read EPC Gen 2 tags to guide the blind.

Michigan Students to Develop RFID-enabled Robotic Guide Dog
Tue, 15 Sep 2009 15:48:05 GMT

PetCare Robot Concept is Quite Worthy

Walyou

But, if you have one of these robots at home, you don't have to worry about your pet at all – the robot acts as a spare guardian of your pet.
See all stories on this topic

PetCare Robot Concept is Quite Worthy
Walyou
Mon, 14 Sep 2009 12:59:05 GMT

Israel’s New Robots Modeled on Animals’ Movements

Returning to one of my favorite subjects, here is a post I found on robots designed from biological models.   The robot pictured below is a snakebot.  Israeli robot builders seem to love serpents as a model for robots.  Click on the serpents link above to see an earlier post on RobotNext about an Israeli Defense Forces robot that is to be used for recon missions.

NY1's Technology performer Adam Balkin filed the report this story is taken from.  The innovative robots were developed by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Their creator, Amir Shapiro, finds inspiration in nature.  Specifically, he studies how animals move.  "We actually look at nature and try to copy but we cannot copy exactly because we have different materials and actuators," says Shapiro. "So we try to mimic nature — it's called biomimetics."

He has created two robotic snakes for search and rescue missions.  One of his creations can climb nearly vertical surfaces such a metal ship hull by using magnets to attach to the surface.  In the story, Shapiro shows other robots that he is working with that are based on LEGO NXT kits.  He makes the point that robots can be developed and build using very inexpensive materials.  Computing power is readily available, so very innovative robots can be build by anyone with the necessary knowledge and skill.

His point is well taken.  Robots have a use where the environment is too dangerous for humans, but robots also have a role to play in recreation.  To see one of the robot snakes in action, click on the video credit link below.



Video Credit:  NY1

New Israeli Robots Move Like Animals
NY1
A robot builder from Israel says he often draws inspiration from actual animals when designing metal ones. NY1's Technology performer Adam Balkin filed the

New Israeli Robots Move Like Animals – NY1 

by Adam Balkin
Thu, 23 Jul 2009 15:45:03 GMT