Tiny Robots Can Work Together On Complex Tasks
December 15, 2012

Ping-Pong Sized Robots Could Collaborate On Major Projects

[ Watch the Video: Robotics That Can Swarm Together ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers at one US university have developed a team of 20 miniature robots which can work together on complex tasks, and now they are hoping to expand their work to mass-produce the machines and prove their usefulness in a vast array of different scenarios.

The robots, which were created by University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) Assistant Professor Nikolaus Correll and his computer science research team have been dubbed "droplets" and are each approximately the size of a ping-pong ball.

According to the university, the robots can swarm together to form what Correll refers to as a "liquid that thinks."

The professor is hoping to create large quantities of the miniature robots so that they can work on more complex projects, and he hopes that they could eventually be used to perform tasks such as containment of an oil spill or the assembly of a piece of hardware that is sent into space in separate components.

"Correll plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. These behaviors could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks," the university explained.

"Correll hopes to create a design methodology for aggregating the droplets into more complex behaviors such as assembling parts of a large space telescope or an aircraft," they added.

The professor was awarded the National Science Foundation´s (NSF) CAREER Faculty Early Career Development Award earlier this year, and his work has also been sponsored by the NSF´s Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research program, NASA and the US Air Force. Correll initially started his work in 2009 while at MIT.

He is currently working with the CU-Boulder aerospace engineering sciences department in order to "further develop the technology, involving autonomous sensors and robots that can tend gardens, in conjunction with a model of a long-term space habitat being built by students," the university said, adding that the professor believes that there is "virtually no limit to what might be created through distributed intelligence systems"

"Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells," Correll explained. "Perhaps someday, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers."