Robot swarms: scientists work to harness the power of the insect world

Sam Thielman in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_1375 Sep. 20 17.20As robotics advances, scientists continue to take cues from the natural world, whether it’s by building robots out of material from animals, like cloned rat muscle or jellyfish matter, or building them in imitation of dogs or cats. And now, those scientists are learning to simulate intelligence by imitating a swarm.

“Swarm robotics”, beyond being one of the scariest terms outside of a Terminator film, is the name roboticists give to robots that can coordinate behavior between multiple bodies, acting as a group. Thomas Schmickl of the Artificial Life Laboratory at the University of Graz in Austria, points out that robots as complex as humans or even dogs are a long way off, but the possibility in the insect world for simple animals to behave in ingenious ways as a group can provide some insight into how to simulate intelligence.

Schmickl’s current crop of robots work mostly underwater – his swarm of as many as 20 swimming robots, all named Jeff, imitates a shoal of fish. With the EU-supported Collective Cognitive Robots project, he hopes to develop not just hardware but algorithms and other software to make group behavior smarter.

“[M]onolithic, non-scaling technology is currently hitting the wall everywhere,” Schmickl said. He points out that computers now often have multiple central processing units, and says that swarms are not necessarily armies of robot bugs. “[W]e talk about the ‘internet of things’ – that might also be perceived as another kind of swarm.”

More here.