Swarm robotics is a new field in robotics. It started in the 2000s, but has really advanced in 2010 and beyond.
To define swarm, it’s a large or dense group of insects or people. We see a lot of swarms in nature. Think of people in crowds all going in the same direction or a bunch of people rushing to the same place to help someone.
Robotic is anything relating to robots. It’s also been used to describe someone as mechanical, stiff, or unemotional.
What is Swarm Robotics?
It’s a mix of both definitions, it’s a large group of tiny robots. The goal is that a thousand small robots work together to accomplish something a single large robot couldn’t.
Engineers look at insects for inspiration to figure out how to create the robots. Using ants for an example, a colony works together to collect food and build tunnels. Engineers program the swarm to work together in a similar way like moving a large object from one place to another.
It’s actually been a challenge to get the robots to work together, that’s why a lot hasn’t changed between 2000 and 2010. Getting tens or a hundred robots to work together is hard, imagine trying to get a thousand of them to? They also need to be able to work even if there are a few that can’t finish the task.
There are different levels within the swarm class. The first is Cooperation, which is when the robots work together to finish a common task.
The second level is Aware or Unaware. It’s about if the robots know the existences of other robots. If they can recognize others within their group.
The third level is Coordination, which looks at the difference in degree which robots take into account the actions made by other robots. The group could be strongly coordinated, weakly coordinated, or not coordinated.
The last level is Organization. This distinguishes Centralized systems, where there is a robot leader in charge of the other robots’ work, and Distributed systems, where the there are no leaders and the robots are responsible for their own decisions.
What Are They for?
There are endless possibilities once this technology is perfected. By 2030, the goal is that we’ll be able to make robots small enough that they’ll be invisible to the naked eye.
This would help the military. They are always looking for ways to improve soldiers’ capabilities in the field or allow them to do what they do without risking their lives.
A million of these machines could be programmed to join together and form vast networks that could be dropped into different environments to perform tasks. Things like advanced reconnaissance, coordination of cyber-attacks, or maybe even physical attacks on military bases by targeting enemy soldiers or disabling large vehicles.
This would be done by equipping the swarm with a special appendage that could chew through electronics and other defensive equipment. They may even be able to sneak into underground bunkers by finding their way through cracks, air vents, or keyholes.
Some less aggressive ideas are that they could pollinate lands affected by the collapse of bee colonies. They could provide detailed monitoring of the atmosphere, water, and land.
They could do search and rescue missions, construction, putting up barriers around toxic chemical spills, or stacking sandbags along the coastline in preparation for floods or hurricanes.
They could even help us beat cancer. Swarm robotics is a type of nanotechnology, which is a field that deals with the smallest robots possible. Different scientists have claimed they’ve made nanobots that can navigate through the bloodstream injecting drugs into cancer cells.
This would be better than traditional chemotherapy because chemo attacks healthy organs and tissue as well as the cancer. It causes the patients to get sick while trying to beat cancer. These nanobots would only go after the cancer cells.
Biggest Hurdles with Creating Robotic Swarms
The biggest roadblock to creating these swarms is how much money they cost to make. It hasn’t been figured out yet on how to get the materials and manufacturing down to the lowest possible cost.
A team of researchers at the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical Engineering got close. They developed mROBerTO, which only costs around sixty dollars to make. It’s not yet available in stores, but the developers will include the software and hardware files with it. You can easily add or remove components to suit your needs.
A Robot Army is Here
They’re just really small. You should follow this field of robotics because once they get the kinks out, it will explode with possibilities. The range that engineers have already imagined is huge, think about what’ll happen once everything works?