[Paleopsych] The Engineer Online: Robot swarms cloud danger

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Thu May 19 19:10:44 UTC 2005

Robot swarms cloud danger

    Industry Channel: [5]Military & Defence
    Source: The Engineer Online

    Engineers at the [7]University of Pennsylvania have received a $5
    million grant from the [8]US Department of Defense to develop
    large-scale "swarms" of robots that could work together to thoroughly
    search large areas from the ground and sky.

    The Scalable Swarms of Autonomous Robots and Sensors or the Swarms
    Project, as it is known takes organisational cues from the natural
    world where tens or even hundreds of small, independent robots work
    together to accomplish specific tasks, such as finding a bomb in a
    crowded city.

    Penn's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP)
    Laboratory will receive the five-year grant from the federal
    government under the Defense Department's Multidisciplinary University
    Research Initiative program. The Swarms project is based upon the
    success of the GRASP Lab's smaller-scale Multiple Autonomous Robotics
    (MARS) project, which managed the movement and behaviour of about a
    dozen robots.

    "Our objective here is to develop the software framework and tools for
    a new generation of autonomous robots, ultimately to the point where
    an operator can supervise an immense swarm of small robots through
    unfamiliar terrain," said Vijay Kumar, director of the GRASP Lab at
    Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science and principal
    investigator of the Swarms Project. "There is an obvious military
    application, to be sure, but the same principles apply whether you are
    looking for a terrorist in an urban environment or localising the
    source of a chemical spill in a city."

    While MARS demonstrated the feasibility of such a program, the Swarms
    Project will take the complexity involved to a new level. To get a
    better grasp of swarming behaviour, Kumar and his colleagues are
    looking to the natural world for inspiration.

    In biology, swarming behaviours arise whenever there are large numbers
    of individuals that lack either the communication or computational
    capabilities required for centralised control. The Swarms Project
    brings together a cross-disciplinary team of researchers with
    expertise in artificial intelligence, control theory, robotics,
    systems engineering and biology. They will take cues from the sort of
    group behaviours that appear in beehives, ant colonies, wolf packs,
    bird flocks and fish schools. But the GRASP researchers are also
    working with molecular and cell biologists interested in the
    complicated signalling processes and group behaviours that go on
    inside and among cells.

    "There are a number of interesting behaviours seen in the natural
    world that we'd like to incorporate, at least analogously," Kumar
    said. "We might want to see the stalking behaviour of a wolf pack, the
    searching behaviour of ants or honeybees or the quorum-sensing
    behaviour of bacteria.

    "In fact, much like ants or bees, these robots will be rather dumb
    individually, but collectively they'll be capable of performing very
    complicated tasks."

    While the GRASP engineers are not attempting to recreate biology, they
    are striving to understand what general principals in biological
    behaviour that might be useful in getting robots to think as a group.
    Eventually, Kumar and his colleagues will demonstrate their
    biologically inspired algorithms on practical vehicle platforms, such
    as the robot blimps, unmanned aerial vehicles and the small
    "clodbuster" four-wheeled robots already in use at GRASP.

    "The MARS project was really about getting robots to interact in a
    physical space, to see their world and react to the obstacles around
    them," Kumar said. "With the Swarms Project, we are going beyond the
    orbit of MARS in that we are getting robots to talk amongst themselves
    about their image of the world around them."

    Footage of robots in recent MARS program tests can be seen [9]here.
    Additional information on the Swarms Project is available [10]here.


    7. http://www.upenn.edu/
    8. http://www.defenselink.mil/
    9. http://www.cis.upenn.edu/mars/site/multimedia.htm#movies
   10. http://www.swarms.org/

More information about the paleopsych mailing list