12 February 2012

Kilobots Are Leaving the Nest

The Kilobots are coming. Computer scientists and engineers at Harvard University have developed and licensed technology that will make it easy to test collective algorithms on hundreds, or even thousands, of tiny robots. Called Kilobots, the quarter-sized bug-like devices scuttle around on three toothpick-like legs, interacting and coordinating their own behavior as a team. A June 2011 Harvard Technical Report demonstrated a collective of 25 machines implementing swarming behaviors such as foraging, formation control, and synchronization. Once up and running, the machines are fully autonomous, meaning there is no need for a human to control their actions.

One key element is the development of sophisticated algorithms that can coordinate the actions of tens to thousands of robots. The name Kilobot describes the researchers' goal of quickly and inexpensively creating a collective of a thousand bots. Inspired by nature, such swarms resemble social insects, such as ants and bees that can efficiently search for and find food sources in large, complex environments, collectively transport large objects, and coordinate the building of nests and other structures. Due to reasons of time, cost, and simplicity, the algorithms being developed today in research labs are only validated in computer simulation or using a few dozen robots at most.

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