[Paleopsych] Philapa Business J.: Robots putting their heads together

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Robots putting their heads together
Philadelphia Business Journal
> From the June 10, 2005 print edition

    [3]Peter Key
    Staff Writer

    The key to getting robots to perform complex tasks may not be in
    making them smarter. Instead, it may be in getting a lot of dumb
    robots to act together.

    That's the idea behind a project being led by the University of
    Pennsylvania that recently received a five-year, $5 million grant from
    the Department of Defense.

    The purpose of the [4]Scalable Swarms of Autonomous Robots and Sensors
    project is to create software and tools that enable a person to direct
    a swarm or swarms of small robots.

    If it succeeds, the project would enable the creation of large groups
    of robots that can act intelligently, even though the robots making up
    the groups aren't too bright.

    The groups would be similar to insects such as ants, which together
    can perform quite complex tasks, even though individually they are
    pretty simple.

    "At some level, robots are like lower order social animals, and the
    question is, 'Can we do with robots what animals do so naturally?'"
    said Vijay Kumar, who is heading the project.

    If the answer is "yes," swarms of robots could be used to do such
    things as spotting the locations of terrorists, which is why the
    Defense Department is interested in them.

    The Defense Department provided a $2 million grant to fund a
    predecessor project, in which researchers demonstrated at Fort
    Benning, Ga., that they could manage the movement and behavior of
    about a dozen autonomously acting robots.

    That also was led by Penn's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and
    Perception Laboratory, or GRASP, which Kumar has directed since 1998.

    The GRASP lab, which is about 25 years old, has a wide variety of
    robots, ranging from the miniature, tractor-like clodbusters that
    performed at Fort Benning to dogs marketed by Sony Corp. that Penn
    students have programmed to play soccer.

    The lab is in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, which
    typically is Penn's largest recipient of Defense grants.

    Penn gets about $10 million to $14 million in Defense grants most
    years, making them a small percentage of its roughly $750 million in
    annual grant awards.

    In addition to robotics experts, the Swarms project will involve
    researchers in the fields of artificial intelligence, control theory,
    systems engineering and biology.

    Besides Penn, Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of
    Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, the University
    of California at Santa Barbara, the Army Research Office and the Army
    Institute of Collaborative Behavior are participating in the project.

    Funding for Swarms comes from the Defense Department's
    Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program.

    The project doesn't involve any classified information; Penn doesn't
    do projects of that type.

    "We don't do research where there are restrictions on publication,"
    said Perry Molinoff, Penn's vice provost for research.

    The predecessor to the Swarms project was called the Multiple
    Autonomous Robotics, or MARS, project. It was meant to get robots to
    interact, see their world and react to obstacles around them.

    The Swarms project will attempt to get the robots to do all that, plus
    communicate with each other about what they are encountering.

    More about the Swarms project can be found at

    pkey at bizjournals.com | 215-238-5141


    1. http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2005/06/13/story1.html
    2. http://philadelphia.bizjournals.com/
    5. http://www.grasp.upenn.edu/swarms/index.html

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