Swarms of Tiny Futuristic Robots to Create “Liquid that Thinks and Colonize Space”





University of Colorado Boulder professor Nikolaus Correll and his computer science research team, have developed a basic robotic building block, which he hopes to reproduce in large quantities to develop increasingly complex systems. Recently the team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a pingpong ball, which they call “droplets.”

When the droplets swarm together, Correll said, they form a “liquid that thinks," similar to the fictional “nanomorphs” depicted in the “Terminator” films wherelarge swarms of intelligent robotic devices could be used for a range of tasks. Swarms of robots could be unleashed to contain an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware after being launched separately into space, Correll said.

Correll plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. These behaviors could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks. With future efforts, Correll hopes to create a design methodology for aggregating the droplets into more complex behaviors such as assembling parts of a large space telescope or an aircraft.

Correll is continuing work on robotic garden technology he developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009. Correll has been working with Joseph Tanner in CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department to further develop the technology, involving autonomous sensors and robots that can tend gardens, in conjunction with a model of a long-term space habitat being built by students.

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. “Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers.”

For a short video of Correll’s team developing swarm droplets visit http://www.colorado.edu/news/multimedia/researchers-creating-team-tiny-robots.For more information about CU-Boulder’s computer science department visit http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/academics/degree/computer-science.

The Daily Galaxy via http://www.colorado.edu/news


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