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.


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

Robotic Roaches for Surgery

Here is an article on an idea that definitely raises the ick factor for surgery to a new level. Like something out of Stephen King's Creepshow, robotic cockroaches are being developed which can crawl into patients' bodies and remove diseased organs by dragging them back out through the mouth.  This next step in robotic surgery is being developed by one of Britain's top doctors.

In the report titled, Robot insects to remove organs via patients' mouths, Sophie Goodchild, Health and Social Affairs Correspondent for the Standard, states "Keyhole surgery pioneer Lord Darzi is developing the "bug-bots", which are set to revolutionize scar-free surgery."

The insect bots would enter the patient's body via the mouth and be able to remove tumors or diseased organs by use of a laser.  Then the surgeons can withdraw the surgical bots and diseased parts through the mouth.  So, there would be no scarring on the patient's body.  (I am not sure about the patient's mind!!!)

Seriously, this has great promise for surgery.  Its not just the lack of scarring, it is the fact that this could reach tumors in difficult to reach areas and the patient's should recover much faster.  Of course, you would have to get use to little robotic creatures crawling around your insides.

Read the story at the link below.

via www.thisislondon.co.uk

By Imitating Insects, Microbots Demonstrate Hive Behaviors

Robot researchers constantly use nature as a model for new robotic developments. Here is another example of this in these microbots.

In particular, the application to robotics has to do with the idea of swarm behaviors.  Insects such as ants and termites tend to act as a unit.  Even though they are small, when they act together, they can accomplish amazing feats.  Termites build large, complex mounds with intricate tunnels.  Ants can organize large hunting parties and carry out raids against larger insects and sometimes even animals.

Swarm of robots have been developed with up to 90 robots organized into a single-acting, focused unit.  As of now, most of these applications have been in the military area.  Gathering intelligence, locating mines and explosives, and surveillance are three common applications commonly used today in the armed forces.  What will truly be a robotics revolution is when swarm robots are used in the home or personal arena.  Imagine several robots in your house working together to clean the floors, do the laundry, and prepare meals.  This is where the future of personal robots may be headed.

Read the complete story at the links below.

Credit:  New Electronics

"Fifty years ago, predictions for the future always included robots that would, by now, be doing most of our daily domestic chores. While that hasn't happened, robots have had a huge impact on our lives, but in industry rather than the home."

via www.newelectronics.co.uk

Robotic Bees Could Save Crops

In September, I posted a Weekly Newswrap with a story about robo-bees.  Now comes this story about robot bees that could help save agriculture from the coming disaster caused by the mysterious bee plague.  This is the disease that has wiped out over one-third of the bee population in the United States.  Some estimates of bee deaths are much higher.  If a cure cannot be found for this Colony Collapse Disorder, perhaps these mechanical bees can help save crops that require pollination.  These robotic bees would be developed from a robotic fly developed by Rob Wood at Harvard University.  Read more about these “beebots” in this article by Corey Binns from the Popular Science website.


Illustration Credit:  Graham Murdoch

That strategy led Gu-Yeon Wei to suggest that Rob Wood morph an almond-size robotic fly he had developed into a fleet of autonomous bees, each capable of carrying out specialized tasks. Perhaps, they speculated, the “RoboBees” could supplement the pollinating duties of bees stricken by a mysterious affliction that’s killed 36 percent of America’s 2.4 million hives. If you build the bee body, Wei told Wood, I can make the brain.

In the future, an autonomous robot could haul the hive from field to field. STEP 2: Survey the Landscape Scout RoboBees leave the hive first and use their ultraviolet sensors to locate the same UV patterns on flower petals that real bees look for.

Robotic Insects Could Pollinate Flowers and Find Disaster Victims – Popular Science
(author unknown)
Thu, 17 Dec 2009 15:09:00 GMT

Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR): Vegetarian, Not Carnivore

So, after days of reporting on this story all over the blogosphere, the company that is developing EATR has come out with a press release to clarify what their robot will use as fuel.  In the original post here at RobotNext, EATR was described as a grazing robot, implying that it only consumed vegetable matter like grass.  Another robot mentioned in the post, Ecobot, is being developed to fuel itself on insects.  These are two completely separate programs, but in the post – as is often the case here at RobotNext – I speculated on the possibility of combining the features of the two robots.   In other words, what the next thing would be:  a robot that can power itself on both plants and insects. 

To set the record straight, I thought I would explain that this was pure speculation on my part and not intended to suggest that EATR can consume insects.  In response to the stories about consuming dead human bodies, I did post a message on Twitter suggesting that I thought the robot only ate grass.  In my research, I could find only information that EATR would consume biomass.  Biomass can include anything organic, so that could be taken to mean that the robot might eat anything.  Since I saw this story originally in reference to eating a lawn, that is how I reported the robot in the original post.

At any rate, this is still a fascinating idea for a robot and one that should provoke serious thought.  Along those lines, it should be noted that the Cyclone Engine that will power EATR could also revolutionize transportation outside of robotics.  This engine can run on any vegetable-based material, including agricultural waste, coal, municipal trash, kerosene, ethanol, diesel, gasoline, heavy fuel, palm oil, cottonseed oil, algae oil, hydrogen, propane, etc. –individually or in combination.  Thus, the Cyclone Engine is a very “green” power source.  Read the presentation on this engine to see all the details.

Washington, July 17 (ANI): The makers of a biomass-eating military robot have clarified that the machine is a vegetarian, and not a non-vegetarian as was earlier reported. Robotic Technology Inc.’s (RTI’s) Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot …

Biomass-eating military robo is a veggie, not a carnivore – Thaindian.com
Fri, 17 Jul 2009 16:56:00 GMT

Robot Insects: Next Military Spies?

So, these are really not robots, they are cyborgs or more correctly, cybugs.  RobotNext has posted articles on robot insects or robots modeled on insects in the past.  Now, these newest robobugs are something else.  These tiny hybrid insect machines combine mechanical and living materials to achieve their abilities.  Microchips are implanted directly into the developing insects where, as the insect matures the electronics are integrated into the nervous system of the bug.  This has actually been done with moths and the moths have exhibited controlled flight while still tethered.  The next step will be independent flight.  First, the problem of power generation must be solved.  Check out the article below for more details on this intriguing project.

 Cyborg Bug

  Photo Credit:  DARPA

The HI-MEMS program at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has to date invested $12 million into research since it began in 2006. It currently supports these cybug projects:

  • Roaches at Texas A&M.
  • Horned beetles at University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley.
  • Moths at an MIT-led team, and another moth project at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research.

Scientists can already control the flight of real moths using implanted devices.

Powerful Ideas: Military Develops 'Cybug' Spies
Wed, 15 Jul 2009 00:42:24 GMT

Robot Grazes for Power

This robot can find its own power by chomping on grass or other vegetation that it finds along its way.  As a potential military application, this robot is currently in a testing stage.  You can see more information in a story posted at Examiner.com.  RobotNext had an earlier post on a robot that can eat bugs to produce its own power, so this concept of living off the land could extend to insects and vegetation.  Make sure and check out the links to other stories on this interesting robot.

EATR(TM) concept drawing courtesy of Robotic Technology Inc. from Examiner.com

Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. announced that it has completed the first stage of its project with Robotic Technology Inc. (RTI), of Potomac, MD, to develop a beta-test biomass engine system which will be used to power RTI’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR™). This is part of a project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Sciences Office.

What more could one want in a robot? Hey! I think that thing is eating my lawn! Paul Fox is an Examiner from Portland. You can see Paul's articles on Paul's

See all stories on this topic

There's a robot eating my lawn
Examiner.com – USA
Wed, 08 Jul 2009 07:27:57 GMT

Robot Furniture Can Rid Home of Vermin (and Eat Them!)

Imagine a lamp that is a robot, and then imagine that this robot lamp just happens to also trap and eat flies.  The next stage in domestic robots could be robotic furniture that doubles as a mousetrap or a flytrap.  Not only do these robots fit in a room as furniture and eat pests-they can use the pests as fuel to power themselves.

RobotNext had an early post that covered an insect digesting robot called the Ecobot.  These furniture robots are based on the same research carried out at the University of Bristol. 

James Auger, at the Royal College of Art, London and his collaborator and fellow designer Jimmy Loizeau have constructed domestic robots in the form of furniture pieces that can sense their surrounding and learn from them.  These bots can also perform basic tasks for people, such as telling the time or lighting a room.

There are two references to this post listed below.  The first is from ZDNet and the second is from New Scientist.  Click on the links below for more of the story.

Photo Credit:  ZDNet Blogs

Robo-furniture eats household pests
ZDNet Blogs
The idea of using vermin as fuel was inspired by researchers at the Bristol Robotics Lab, UK. They already developed a fly-powered robot in '04 and have
and more »

Robo-furniture eats household pests – ZDNet Blogs
Sat, 27 Jun 2009 17:59:47 GMT


Image: Auger-Loizeau

Futuristic-looking robots like Honda's sleek humanoid Asimo don't cut it for designer James Auger, at the Royal College of Art, London. Believing that they need to fit unobtrusively into the home, he has built robotic furniture. And, believing they need to be useful and entertaining, he has given the furniture an appetite for vermin, like mice and flies.

Gallery: Domestic robots with a taste for flesh-New Scientist
Thu, 25 Jun 2009 13:19:00 GMT