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Self-Assembling Swarms of Microrobots

Self-Assembling Swarms of Microrobots

Using an electrical signal to tell a swarm of microrobots to self-assemble into a desired structure has been demonstrated by researchers. The “artificial ant” won’t be far behind.

Herding Swarms of Microrobots – [technologyreview.com]

Imagine a swarm of microrobots—tiny devices a few hair widths across—swimming through your blood vessels and repairing damage, or zipping around in computer chips as a security lock, or quickly knitting together heart tissue. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and Duke University have shown how to use a single electrical signal to command a group of microrobots to self-assemble into larger structures. The researchers hope to use this method to build biological tissues. But for microrobots to do anything like that, researchers must first figure out a good way to control them.

I-SWARM – [i-swarm.org]


In classical micro-robotics, highly integrated and specialised robots have been developed, which are able to perform micro-manipulations controlled by a central high-level control system. On the other hand, technology is still far away from the first “artificial ant” which would integrate all capabilities of these simple, yet highly efficient swarm building insects.

This has been the motivation of other research fields focusing on studying such swarm behaviour and trying to transfer it to simulations or physical robot agents. Realisations of small robot groups of 10 to 20 robots are capable to mimic some aspects of such social insects. However, the used robots are usually huge compared to their natural counterparts, and very limited in terms of perception, manipulation and co-operation capabilities.

This project combines all: micro-robotics, distributed and adaptive systems as well as self-organising biological swarm systems. It is a technological advance to facilitate the mass-production of micro-robots, which can then be employed as a “real” swarm consisting of more than 100 micro-robot clients. These clients will all be equipped with limited, so-called pre-rational on-board intelligence. The swarm will consist of a huge number of heterogeneous robots, differing in the type of sensors, manipulators and computational power. Such a robot swarm is expected to accomplish a variety of applications and to perform different strategies. With the realisation of three bio-inspired basic scenarios, the swarm will be able to perform dispersion, aggregation and collective perception.

Building on a large expertise in micro-robot technologies, the project addresses topics like polymer actuators, collective perception, utilise (instead of fighting) micro scaling effects, artificial and collective intelligence. The project results enable humans to furtherly understand the micro-world, to bridge the gap between micro- and nano-technologies and to be the stepping stone to a “real artificial ant”.

Swarm Intelligence
Smart Dust
Mote Net Computing

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