Industry set to benefit from robot ‘swarm’

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A way of making hundreds – or even thousands – of tiny robots gather together to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by Sheffield engineers.

The team from Sheffield Centre for Robotics, based in Sheffield University’s engineering faculty has programmed extremely simple devices that are able to form a dense cluster, in a similar way to how a swarm of bees or flock of birds is able to carry out tasks collectively.

The achievement paves the way for robot ‘swarms’ to be used in industries such as farming.

Each robot used a single sensor that tells them whether or not they can see another robot in front of them. In this way, they are able to gradually form and maintain a cluster formation.

Roderich Gross, from the centre, said: “What we have shown is robots do not need to compute to solve problems like that of gathering into a single cluster, and the same could be true for swarming behaviours that we find in nature, such as in bacteria, fish, or mammals.

“This means we are able to ‘scale up’ these swarms, to use thousands of robots that could then be programmed to perform tasks.

“In a real scenario, this could involve monitoring levels of pollution in the environment, or we could also see them being used to perform tasks in areas hazardous for humans to go.

“We could also imagine these robots being used in the world of healthcare, where they could travel through the human vascular network to offer diagnosis or treatment for patients in a non-invasive way.”