Saturday, October 25, 2008

Robot Ants To Colonize Mars

The first inhabitants of Mars might not be human in form at all, but rather swarms of tiny robots.
European researchers are developing tiny autonomous robots that can co-operate to perform different tasks, much like termites, ants or bees forage collaboratively for food, build nests and work together for the greater good of the colony.

Working in the I-SWARM project, the team created a 100-strong posse of centimetre-scale robots and made considerable progress toward building swarms of ant-sized micro-bots. Several of the researchers have since gone on to work on creating swarms of robots that are able to reconfigure themselves and assemble autonomously into larger robots in order to perform different tasks.

Just as ants may observe what other ants nearby are doing, follow a specific individual, or leave behind a chemical trail in order to transmit information to the colony, the I-SWARM team’s robots are able to communicate with each other and sense their environment. The result is a kind of collective perception.

The robots use infrared to communicate, with each signalling another close by until the entire swarm is informed. When one encounters an obstacle, for example, it would signal others to encircle it and help move it out of the way.

Planet exploration and colonisation are just some of a seemingly endless range of potential applications for robots that can work together, adjusting their duties depending on the obstacles they face, changes in their environment and the swarm’s needs.

Simple, mass production would ensure that the robots are relatively cheap to manufacture. Researchers would therefore not have to worry if one gets lost in the Martian soil. link

I-SWARM robots in action: