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Collaboration is Key in Robotics

There is truth in the old saying that “there’s strength in numbers”. Lately, many of the exciting advancements in the robotics community have been made by teams of researchers from different companies or universities collaborating on projects that use multiple robots working together to execute a complex task.

Michigan Tech is using miniature robots to help restore power to cellular towers and other communication systems after a disaster takes out the electricity. In those situations, regaining power is crucial to support search and rescue efforts. The scientists have proven this concept by programming prototype robots to identify and follow the shortest path possible while avoiding obstacles to reestablish power in small electrical networks by connecting power cords and batteries. In addition to use after disasters, autonomous power distribution capabilities could be used in military applications for setting up power systems ahead of ground troops. This technology can also be useful in underwater applications where recharging robots that are searching for underwater wreckage can occur without resurfacing.

Researchers at the University of Lincoln, working with a team from Tsinghua University in China, have developed an absurdly small, low cost autonomous robot that imitates the swarming behavior of bees and the obstacle avoidance behavior of locusts. While other scientists have successfully designed swarming robots, the big achievement with that effort is the ultra-low cost.

Similar efforts at Harvard in August resulted in 1024 tiny Kilobots communicating and working together to coordinate their movements to complete a task. Researchers commanded the tiny bots to assemble to form the letter “K” or a starfish shape. Four leading robots were used as a base for the shape. Then, the remaining robots tracked distance from the starting point and maintained a sense of location relative to each other to finish forming the directed shape. When rogue robots happened, other robots detected the failure and made up for the mishap.

On the other end of the size spectrum, this summer NASA showed off their “Swarmies” robots that build upon research conducted at the University of New Mexico. The Swarmies consist of four individual robots each equipped for specific tasks to be deployed on the surface of planets. Each robot surveys an area of the planet, while communicating with the other three robots. When something of interest is found or the robot is done its specific task, the robot alerts the others. Having robots working together in this capacity ensures redundancy in the mission – if one robot malfunctions or is damaged, the mission can still continue. Aside from applications in space exploration, these robots could be used to inspect critical pipelines and search and rescue efforts here on Earth.

From collaborating robots to collaborating companies – working together is allowing us to push boundaries faster and more robustly than ever before.

Sources:
Michigan Tech University
Michigan Tech developing robot teams to restore power at disaster sites
Blackout? Robots to the Rescue

University of Lincoln, Tsinghua University
Low-cost autonomous robots replicate swarming behavior
‘Honeybee’ robots replicate swarm behaviour

Harvard University
Over 1,000 robots swarm together in Harvard lab
The 1,000-robot swarm

NASA
NASA’s “swarmies” robots would team up to explore alien worlds
Meet The “Swarmies”- Robotics Answer to Bugs

 

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