Home Optimal energy It’s time to start thinking about robot swarms

It’s time to start thinking about robot swarms


The new television series welcome down to earth of Nutopia is full of surprises, and among them is “The Mind of the Swarm”, a close look at the dynamics of swarm behavior. This episode unveils the mystery of why a wildebeest chooses to jump into a river full of hungry crocodiles (spoiler alert: swarm behavior), and the larger message carries over to the world of robot swarms and their potential use. for good, not bad.

Welcome to Earth: Spirit of the Swarm

Before I get to this thing about robot swarms, CleanTechnica had the chance to speak with the person behind the series, Jane Root, who is the president of Discovery Networks and the founder of the famous American production company Nutopia, who is behind the creation of the action documentary “mega -doc ”format.

This is a perfect approach for examining swarm behavior, especially when your subjects are tens of thousands of 600 pound wildebeest.

“When you explore the energy of crowds, it’s more than a crowd. There’s a purpose, whether it’s an orchestra or a herd of wildebeest, ”Root explained. “They travel hundreds of kilometers across the savannah, all moving in the same direction. But, like an orchestra, they don’t look at each other for clues. There is no gap between thinking and doing. It’s perfectly calibrated how the swarm becomes a thing.

See for yourself – Welcome to earth is an original 6-part National Geographic limited series released exclusively on Disney +, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring the fearless Will Smith with an expert cast.

So about these swarms of robots

Give nothing, but parts of the Spirit of the Swarm The episode relies on drones, which Root describes as “military grade technology never before used on wildlife.”

“Flying a drone is difficult, and flying it at night is even more difficult,” she explained. “You get closer to things that no one else can. There is no loud noise, no helicopter, so there is a feeling of privacy, born of technology.

If this sounds like someone talking about the benefits of robot swarms for environmental monitoring, you’re on the money. A gigantic research vessel or vehicle with a noisy engine cannot accomplish much before it disrupts the environment it seeks to study. Electrical technology can help reduce noise, but the bulk of conventional research equipment can be a hindrance, and that’s where the idea of ​​distributing tasks among swarms of tiny, silent robots comes in.

Back in 2009 CleanTechnica took note of 7 robots with green trades, one of which involved ball-shaped robots designed to drift across the ocean in swarms, to collect data on microorganisms.

“They could also guard sensitive areas or provide on-site information on oil spills, plane crashes and other maritime emergencies,” we wrote.

In 2012, we looked at the “Scalybot 2” robot project underway at Georgia Tech, which was an energy-efficient search and rescue robot based on the movement of snakes. The research team was also examining the swarming behavior of the fire ants. Individual fire ants cannot swim, but they can group together in floating ball formations in order to cross the water.

This gave rise to the possibility of robotic snake ant swarms.

“In combination with robots like Scalybot 2, the result could be swarms of small robots able to navigate difficult terrain and autonomously assemble into larger formations to overcome obstacles that are beyond an individual’s capabilities. “, we wrote.

If that sounds a bit far-fetched, take a look at the self-powered robotic jellyfish monitor being developed that same year, as part of a joint connection between Virginia Tech and the US Navy.

“… the final concept is for a device that can provide its own energy through a reaction between oxygen and hydrogen in seawater, using platinum as a catalyst. The reaction creates enough energy in the form of heat to run the robot’s propulsion system, without the need for batteries or an external fuel source, ”we wrote.

Onward and upward for the (good) robot swarm of the future

2012 was certainly a banner year for robot swarms. Johns Hopkins University participated in the research with plans to develop an aerial micro-vehicle no larger than an insect.

“As energy-efficient micromachines, AVMs could become an essential part of the sustainable technology landscape, for example in the maintenance of wind turbines and other clean energy tasks, data collection and environmental monitoring. . They could also be useful in emergency response, particularly as a “search” part of a search and rescue operation. “

For some reason, the whole idea of ​​robot swarms fell from the CleanTechnica radar shortly thereafter. In 2014, we covered a swarm robotics project involving bee-based eye technology, and that was it.

Much has happened since then. Just yesterday, our friends at Magazine inc. waxed enthusiastically on swarms of robots.

“Military ants are a good example of this: millions of them work together to accomplish tasks, such as building nests, without any leader in charge,” they wrote. “The insects will even create bridges and ladders from their own bodies to allow other ants to pass through holes and rough terrain. Other organisms, from cells to flocks of birds to schools of fish, also exhibit collective intelligence as they move in synchronization with one another.

In a rather strange coincidence of names, the Inc. The article quotes Radhika Nagpal, founder of the educational robotics company ROOT Robotics (acquired by iRobot in 2019). Go figure!

Not for nothing, but Nagpal is also the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a founding faculty member at the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Meanwhile, last month, news of a robot swarm project at Texas A&M University, where the focus is on solving the problem of “smart” farming systems that rely on heavy machinery that compacts. soil and can have other environmental consequences – so maybe they’re not so smart after all.

“The use of adaptive swarm robotics has the potential to provide significant environmental and economic benefits to smart agriculture efforts globally through the implementation of autonomous land and air technologies,” says TAMU, adding that this approach “could lead to long-term benefits through reduced waste through better logistics, optimal use of water and fertilizers and an overall reduction in the use of pesticides.”

“The research team believe that by using smaller machines to reduce soil compaction and working to avoid herbicide-resistant weeds through non-chemical control methods, significant ecological and environmental benefits can be achieved. “, they add even more.

Thinking ahead, the field of robot swarms may intersect with the emerging field of agro-voltaics, which allows crops to be grown within arrays of solar panels. The challenge is how to maneuver conventional farm machinery around solar panels, but an automated swarm of farm robots could do the trick.

Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image (screenshot): Swarming behavior in wildebeest courtesy of Disney + Originals.

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