A team from the University of Colorado led by Assistant Professor Nikolaus Correll has developed a swarm of miniature robots which they aim to reproduce in large quantities to tackle complex challenges such as cleaning up oil spills. Initially, the team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a ping pong ball, dubbed “droplets,” but they hope that with more robots they’ll be able to create a “liquid that thinks.”
Correll’s team hope that their large swarms of intelligent robotic devices could be used for a range of tasks, such as containing an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware in space. However one of the key challenges for the robots is their ability to demonstrate self-assembly and intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. If successful, these behaviors could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks.
Due to the massive potential of the technology, Correll’s team has received support from NSF’s Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research program, as well as NASA and the U.S. Air Force. In fact, the team hope to one day use autonomous sensors and robots to tend gardens in a long-term space habitat currently being built by students.
However Correll says there is virtually no limit to what might be created through distributed intelligence systems. “Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells,” he said in press release. “Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers.”