Cheap, Swarming Kilobots Bring Us Closer to a Bot-Filled World (video)

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read the phrase “robotic swarm”? A nefarious group of robots on a devious mission? How about miniature robots working to rescue trapped people after a natural disaster? Either way, exciting research at the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group at Harvard University aims to make robotic swarms cheap enough for the masses. Led by Dr. Radhika Nagpal, the Kilobot Project aims to provide researchers building algorithms to control a large group of cooperating robots with actual swarms of robots with which to test and refine their algorithms. Currently, various factors including cost and complexity have relegated testing of these algorithms to the digital world, i.e computer simulations. But thankfully, no longer! Costing a mere $14 per robot and taking just five minutes to assemble, kilobots are cheap and simple to obtain. What’s more, they can all be programmed simultaneously, meaning that there’s no need to waste time sending commands to a thousand robots one at a time! Watch these tiny bots doing what they do best in the videos below. They might seem simplistic at this point, but keep in mind that these bots are early in development. Their full potential will only be realized after a few more years of R&D.

At first glance, it may seem like these kilobots are just for fun. Why would a tiny, desktop robot that moves around be important? Well, the goal of swarm robotics is to allow a large number of robots to work together on the same task. Think of robots working in a mine or tiny nanobots that will have medical uses. There is an endless number of potential applications from building 3D models to working in search and rescue or even just playing capture the flag. Just like a human team at work, effective and clear communication among the team members is critical to getting the job done right. It’s no different when you have robots working together, and the Kilobot Project will allow this field to move forward in a meaningful way. I was fascinated by these tiny, mechanical creatures moving around to complete their given task. I can’t wait to see how we eventually use them in our everyday lives!

[Image credits: Gadget Cage]
[Video credits: Harvard University Self-Organizing Systems Research Group]

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