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

Seahorse tails provide inspiration for future robots

imageAdding to the list from nature that has inspired robotics development is the seahorse.  And what is it about the seahorse that is so applicable to robots?  It’s the tail. Actually, it’s the shape of the tail that is important for future bots.

I did not realize until I read this post on Gizmag, that seahorses have square-shaped tails.  This unique structure allows for great strength and flexibility.

The researchers used 3-D printers to build prototypes of the seahorse tail structures and found that the square shape was more durable and stronger than a cylindrical shape.

The key to better, tougher and more coordinated robots as well as improved surgical procedures, among other advances, could derive their inspiration from an unlikely source – the odd, square tail of the all-around strange seahorse.

So, once again nature is proving to be a model for the development of new and useful robots.  You can read the complete article on this at the link below.  Let RobotNext know what you think about this.

Source: Gizmag – The key to awesome future robots could be seahorse tails

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

Robot Inspired by Roach

This is quite an amazing little robot.  Nature has provided a very adaptable example to follow in this case.  Inspired by the lowly cockroach, it is as tough to destroy as its real-life model.  It can survive a fall of 90 feet and scurry off like it has seen a can of Raid.  Built so that it uses only one motor, this roachbot turns by flexing and slightly deforming its frame.  You have to see the video on You Tube to see the robo roach in action.  It has always been said that if there is ever a nuclear war, only the roaches would survive.  Now, it may be that the robotic roaches will be there too!  Check out the story at IEEE by clicking on the link below or read the article at ZDNet by following the link in the quote below.

motorcrawler roachbot

Credit:  Biomimetic Millisystems Lab and UC Berkeley

IEEE Spectrum writes of a small resilient robot created by Paul Birkmeyer and Prof. Ronald Fearing at the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab at UC Berkeley.

Aptly called DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod), the six-legged insect-inspired robot can reach speeds of 1.5 meters per second and is flexible/strong enough to be dropped from a height of 28 meters without breaking. A single DC motor powers the legs and a small servomotor to slightly deform the robot’s body, allowing it to make turns.
Emerging Technology Trends – http://blogs.zdnet.com/emergingtech/

Resilient cockroach-inspired robot survives large falls, dashes
Chris Jablonski
Wed, 14 Oct 2009 15:01:48 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

Fishbots: Robots Mimic Swimming Motions of Schools of Fish

Robotic fish that swim like a bass or trout are the latest crossover from biology to robotics.  Mechanical engineers Kamal Youcef-Toumi and Pablo Valdivia Y Alvarado of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)  have designed the elegant fishbots to maneuver deftly into areas where more conventional underwater remotely operated or autonomous vehicles are unable to reach. “Schools” of the new robot fish could be utilized to carry-out inspections of underwater structures such as oil and gas pipes; ship’s hulls; and perhaps help detect environmental hazards.  They could also find uses in patrolling ports, rivers, and lakes.  Unlike earlier robotic fish, these robots are much simpler in design and are much more like their natural models.  Read more about these amazing machines in the stories linked below.



Credit:  CNET News

New robots mimic fish's swimming
PhysOrg.com
As part of his doctoral thesis, Valdivia Y Alvarado created a model to calculate the optimal material properties distributions along the robot's body to
Schools of Mini Robofish Swim Where Humans Can'tWired News
MIT dives into robo-fish poolCNET News
MIT researchers create robotic fish for underwater explorationVentureBeat
all 9 news articles »

New robots mimic fish's swimming – PhysOrg.com
Mon, 24 Aug 2009 22:12:25 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

Robobats Could Be The Next Generation Of Remote Control Flyers

Nature strikes again with the next model for robots. These small robot flyers imitate bats which are nature’s small flyers.  The potential uses for these little bots are surveillance and search and rescue.  Using the potential for maneuverability and performance that a bat-like robot could provide, these bots have a potential for both military and civilian applications.  Check out the story below for the complete details.

Image Credit:  Science Daily

ScienceDaily (July 7, 2009) — Tiny flying machines can be used for everything from indoor surveillance to exploring collapsed buildings, but simply making smaller versions of planes and helicopters doesn't work very well. Instead, researchers at North Carolina State University are mimicking nature's small flyers – and developing robotic bats that offer increased maneuverability and performance.

Adapted from materials provided by North Carolina State University.

Robo-bats With Metal Muscles May Be Next Generation Of Remote Control Flyers
WWW.OLOSCIENCE.COM (f.intilla@bluewin.ch)
Tue, 07 Jul 2009 17:21:00 GMT

Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory

Robots that are modeled on nature have intrigued me for several months.  This seems like the next major area for breakthroughs in robotics.  Now, I spotted this job placement request on my newsfeed.  Starting in August of 2009, a new laboratory will open at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.  Fumiya Iida, Dr. sc. nat., will be the director.   His research interest includes biologically inspired robotics, embodied artificial intelligence, and biomechanics.  His research includes robots modeled on cats, dogs, monkeys, and many other nature models.  Look on his website for some great photos of robots that he has built and worked with in his research.

 
Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory
(Director: Fumiya Iida)
Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
(ETH Zurich) Switzerland
http://www.iris.ethz.ch/


Photo Credit:  Fumiya IIDA Dr. sc. nat.

Posdoc/PhD Positions at ETH Zurich, Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory
Youngester (noreply@blogger.com)
Fri, 19 Jun 2009 22:45:00 GMT