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UK Scientists Taping into the Power of Swarm of Robots Working Together

Mar 28, 2013 11:26 PM EDT

Human fascination with machines dates back to the dawn of our civilization.

Though we’ve worked at it ever since, it wasn’t until recently that the dream of harnessing the power of a robot began to seem not so far-fetched, after all.

There’s certainly still a long way to go when it comes to developing a reasonably human-like robot, but it has never been so clear that soon the day will come when we will have them among us.

Now, British scientists are one step ahead of everybody. They aren’t just thinking about harnessing the power of one, but a swarm of robots; a group of machines working together to fulfill given tasks.

Researchers in the Sheffield Centre for Robotics have been working to program a group of 40 robots to work together as a group in order to perform various tasks, including pushing balls and navigating simple obstacles.

The researchers at the center, which was established by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, believe that having the ability to control robot swarms could prove hugely advantageous in a range of contexts, from military to medical.

The team of robotic experts began with a simple goal of creating robots capable of identifying the position of nearby robots. The robots attempt to identify a nearby robot and if none exist, it turns and begins moving in the opposite direction, part of a strategy to find other robots. Then, once one robot has discovered another, it can choose whether to create a group to accomplish a task or remain a single unit, the researchers said in a statement.

"We are developing Artificial Intelligence to control robots in a variety of ways. The key is to work out what is the minimum amount of information needed by the robot to accomplish its task," said study author Dr. Roderich Gross, head of the Natural Robotics Lab at the University of Sheffield.

"There are a lot of swarm systems in nature that you may be aware of like a flock of birds, a school of fish or even the brain itself can be seen as a swarm system," Dr. Gross noted.

Dr. Gross also believes the swarming robots may be an important cpart of the future of micromedicine, as 'nanobots' are developed for non-invasive treatment of humans. He also noted they could play a part in military, or search and rescue operations, acting together in areas where it would be too dangerous or impractical for humans to go Meanwhile, robot swarms could be put to use in the workplace, improving manufacturing processes and workplace safety.

This research is funded by a Marie Curie European Reintegration Grant within the 7th European Community Framework Programme. Additional support has been provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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