bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, June 11, 2004

The SwarmBots are coming

Swarms and social insects are again inspiring new technology — this time robots. SwarmBots are being developed by iRobot, in Burlington, Massachusetts, the people who brought us Roomba, the floor-vacuuming robots.
Insects make great conceptual models for cheap robots because they have simple local interactions with one another that nonetheless add up to very complicated group behaviors, such as building a hive or foraging for nectar. The whole, in other words, is greater than the sum of its parts.

iRobot's SwarmBots are cubes measuring five inches on each side. They have rechargeable nicad batteries and a pair of electric motors inside, along with a microprocessor and some associated circuitry. A “bump skirt” helps the robots sense and avoid crashing into obstacles. Each has a small color camera for simple object recognition, as well as sensors that detect light. Communications between robots are handled by an array of infrared transmitters and receivers similar to the ones used in TV remote controls.
It looks like iRobot is getting significant funding for its work as it is of great interest to the military. Using cheap, disposable robots to clear land mines or to take over buildings held by the enemy seems to appeal.

But how about some SwarmBots to deal with those pesky killer bees?


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