[Paleopsych] Philapa Business J.: Robots putting their heads together
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Fri Jun 17 19:26:04 UTC 2005
Robots putting their heads together
Philadelphia Business Journal
> From the June 10, 2005 print edition
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 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
"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
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