Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin, Robotics Engineer and Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at the aforementioned university wanted to imitate with the robots the mutual behaviours of honeybees, birds and ants to solve problems.
The study examined how developing a physical link between separate robots could improve the capabilities and mobility of a terrestrial-legged collective system.
Case in point: Should one robot meet a hurdle they can’t overcome, the collective would come together to overcome said hurdle.
Legged robots can move through rugged terrains and tight spaces, and the extra limbs provide efficient body support, enable rapid mobility and facilitate obstacle crossing.” she added
“However, legged robots face special challenges in terrestrial environments, which causes reduced mobility.”
Nature As A Blueprint for a Robot Swarm
In recent years, scientists have increasingly drawn inspiration from Mother Nature and its children to create both underwater and aerial robotics for various applications.
Designing robots with the ability to cross complex terrain and overcome hurdles is, however, a task.
Of note, various scientists and engineers have tried to map and imitate the behaviour of those in the animal kingdom that form a collective, which includes flocks of birds, ant colonies, and schools of fish.
Despite attempts to imitate natural collective intelligence,
the swarm robots are more often than not remote-controlled or GPS-guided.
Back in 2014, the collective cognitive robots project used 3D printing in the creation of swarm robots.
the project was a collaboration between 5 European universities and ended in forty 3D-printed mini-submarine robots that worked together to complete complex tasks.
Even more recently, Harvard Research Group 3D printed a school of soft robotic fish that could swim in complex patterns without Wi-Fi or GPS.
The robot’s self-sufficiency would see them deployed for eco-monitoring situations in marine environments that would normally be inaccessible to humans.
Presently, swarms of ground-based robots are restricted to simple terrains, which, according to Ozkan-Aydin, is partly due to a lack of mobility to deal with complex terrain.
Because of this, In early 2010 the scientist conducted research and experiments to reproduce the self-organizing actions of flocks and animal colonies to improve the dexterity of the swarm-bots.
Additive manufacturing: A solution
Ozkan-Aydin’s research is established on the premise that a connection between the robots could increase the mobility and potential of the entire system.
If a particular task is too difficult for one simple robot, the roots would physically attach (think Power Rangers Zoids) to form a multi-legged system that can accomplish said task.
This is based on an ant mentality in solving problems. Ozkan-Aydin further explained
” Should there be a gap in a pah, they can simply make a bridge so other ants can cross.”
Making the swarm involved a 3D printer to develop cost-effective 4-legged robots that measured 15-20cm in length.
individual robots are equipped with a lithium polymer battery, three sensors, and a microcontroller.
it also features a light sensor at the front, and each robot has two magnetic touch sensors at both the front and back to help attach to other swarm members.
each robot was 3D printed with four dexterous legs, which, as noted by Ozkan-Aydin enabled the robots to a level of machine intelligence and decreased the need for additional sensors.
Testing the swarm’s mobility
The swarm was tested after 3D printing over terrains and obstacles. She tested the robots using stairs built from wooden blocks and insulation foam serving as rough terrain.
when an individual robot gets stuck on a hurdle, the swarm receives a signal that enables them to link together through their magnetic sensors to give support and overcome the obstacle in question
While Ozkan-Aydin admits there are still improvements to be made to her robot swarm design, she believes the study will help to inform the development of low-cost legged swarms that are flexible enough to overcome unforeseen scenarios.
She foresees her research promoting the design of swarm robots that are capable of performing real-world tasks such as search-and-rescue operations,
environmental monitoring, transporting objects, and even space exploration.
Source: Science Robotics Journal