Home pagePress monitoringGrowing bio-inspired shapes with hundreds of tiny robots

Growing bio-inspired shapes with hundreds of tiny robots

Date: 21.12.2018 

Hundreds of small robots can work in a team to create biology-inspired shapes without an underlying master plan, purely based on local communication and movement.

Kredit: Slavkov et al., Sci. Robot. 3, eaau9178 (2018).To achieve this, researchers from EMBL, CRG and Bristol Robotics Laboratory introduced the biological principles of self-organisation to swarm robotics. The results have been published in Science Robotics.

"We show that it is possible to apply nature's concepts of self-organisation to human technology like robots," says EMBL Barcelona group leader James Sharpe.

"That's fascinating because technology is very brittle compared to the robustness we see in biology. If one component of a car engine breaks down, it usually results in a non-functional car. By contrast, when one element in a biological system fails, for example if a cell dies unexpectedly, it does not compromise the whole system, and will usually be replaced by another cell later. If we could achieve the same self-organisation and self-repair in technology, we can enable it to become much more useful than it is now."

Complete experiments lasted for three and a half hours on average. Inspired by biology, the robots store morphogens, virtual molecules that carry the patterning information. The colours signal the individual robots' morphogen concentration: green indicates very high morphogen values, blue and purple indicate lower values, and no colour indicates virtual absence of the morphogen in the robot. Each robot's morphogen concentration is broadcast to neighbouring robots within a 10 centimetre range.

While the researchers took inspiration from nature to grow the swarm shapes, the goal is ultimately to make large robot swarms for real-world applications. Imagine hundreds or thousands of tiny robots changing formation to adapt to a disaster environment after an earthquake or fire, or sculpting themselves into a dynamic 3-D structure such as a temporary bridge that could automatically adjust its size and shape to fit any building or terrain.

 


 

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