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Sunday, December 04, 2022

On Swarm Robotics

Especially interested in how we can link to tasks that need multiples of specialized solvers ... 

Swarm Robotics Moves Forward   By Samuel Greengard

Communications of the ACM, December 2022, Vol. 65 No. 12, Pages 12-14   10.1145/3565979

Intelligent patterns and behaviors appear in many living systems—and the collective behavior of groups such as birds or insects frequently display greater intelligence than any given creature. What one ant, bee, or bird cannot tackle alone, the group can, and often does, accomplish.

This shared intelligence has not gone unnoticed by robotics researchers. As they look for ways to build smarter mechanical objects that can creep, run, swim, and fly, they are turning to nature for inspiration and direction. Drawing on areas as diverse as biology, psychology, physics, materials science, and aerodynamics, they are exploring ways to create new and smarter robotic systems, including microbots that could someday venture into the human body.

"The field is very important, especially for large-scale applications such as environmental monitoring, search and rescue, agriculture, exploration, and crisis response," says Katia P. Sycara, the Edward Fredkin Research Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. "A swarm is a large group of robotic devices—into the hundreds or thousands—that can perform various useful large-scale tasks. Swarms can also remain robust with the loss of individual members."

Of course, swarm robotics is not without technical and practical challenges—and it introduces new risks, such as the ability to use systems in wars and for autonomous killing. Yet, recent research demonstrates the concept is increasingly viable. "In many task settings, large solitary robots are about to give way to robot collectives capable of more complex behaviors," says Kirstin Petersen, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering of Cornell University.

Second Nature

Drawing inspiration from nature is at the center of swarm robotics. "If you examine an army ant, each one is very simple and can do very little on its own," observes Steven Ceron, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher in the mechanical engineering department at Cornell University. "However, when you look at what an entire colony can do, it's pretty remarkable."

"In many task settings, large solitary robots are about to give way to robot collectives capable of more complex behaviors."

For example, a group of ants can work collectively to build a bridge with their bodies to allow other ants to cross over a stream. Similarly, bees communicate with each other about food sources that allow a colony to flourish, and many types of migratory birds fly in formations that benefit the group. The birds at the front reduce the drag for others behind them and, periodically, the birds switch positions so no single bird bears the entire brunt of the workload. "The collective group has an intelligence that exceeds any individual animal," Ceron says.  ... ' 

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