AI News, Warehouse Robots Get Smarter With Ant Intelligence

Warehouse Robots Get Smarter With Ant Intelligence

Amazon may have just gotten its claws into Kiva Systems, but there's more than one company out there looking to automate warehouses with smart little robots.At the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, researchers are looking for ways to make warehouse robots smarter and more efficient by getting them to communicate and cooperate like a swarm of ants.

The big difference between a swarm of (say) ants and a swarm of (say) robots is that the ants don't have any high-level control: each ant has its own little tiny brain, and even though ants have specific tasks that they are directed (or bred) to perform, they decide on an individual level how to go about carrying out their instructions.

The robots don't need fixed localization points, but instead rely on 'integrated localization and navigation technology' (including signal-based location capability, distance and acceleration sensors and laser scanners) to find the most direct routes to their destination without crashing into anything or each other.

Programmable Robot Swarms

Collective behaviors enable animals like ants to build huge complex structures through the distributed actions of millions of independent agents.

These collective behaviors are inspiring engineers at the Wyss Institute to build simple mobile robots that harness the demonstrated power of the swarm, performing collective tasks like transporting large objects or autonomously building human-scale structures.

Flying microrobots could be instructed to pollinate a field, or — inspired by termites — an autonomous robot construction team could be programmed to build 3D structures and traversable surfaces, to stack sandbags along vulnerable coastlines before a hurricane or to lay our barriers around toxic chemical spills.

Researchers just figured out how to get robots to join forces

The researchers were able to get autonomous modular robots—robots that have the ability to control themselves, like the Roomba vacuum cleaner—to join forces and make one cohesive megabot.

Researchers who study swarming insects like termites and ants know that these animals can accomplish things in coordinated groups that they could never manage on their own: carrying large objects, taking out predators, and creating intricate structures.

The typical approach has been to program the robots for self-organization, which is how ants and termites operate, so that the bots can make decisions based on local information about their personal surroundings.

“If the central computer doesn't communicate correctly, or if it breaks down, the whole system doesn't work anymore.” It’s kind of like building a Death Star with a thermal exhaust port which, if hit with a torpedo, creates a chain reaction that ignites the main reactor and destroys your whole ship.

But when they touch each other to form a bigger unit, they cede control to a single comrade in the swarm (the robot that continues to glow red in the video below).

Swarm robotics

Swarm robotics is an approach to the coordination of multirobot systems which consist of large numbers of mostly simple physical robots.

Unlike distributed robotic systems in general, swarm robotics emphasizes a large number of robots, and promotes scalability, for instance by using only local communication.[1] That local communication for example can be achieved by wireless transmission systems, like radio frequency or infrared.[2] Miniaturization and cost are key factors in swarm robotics.

Also some artists use swarm robotic techniques to realize new forms of interactive art.[citation needed] More controversially, swarms of military robots can form an autonomous army.

However, a swarm consisting of 1,024 individual robots was demonstrated by Harvard in 2014, the largest to date.[6] Another large set of applications may be solved using swarms of micro air vehicles, which are also broadly investigated nowadays.

In comparison with the pioneering studies of swarms of flying robots using precise motion capture systems in laboratory conditions,[7] current systems such as Shooting Star can control teams of hundreds of micro aerial vehicles in outdoor environment[8] using GNSS systems (such as GPS) or even stabilize them using onboard localization systems[9] where GPS is unavailable.[10][11] Swarms of micro aerial vehicles have been already tested in tasks of autonomous surveillance,[12] plume tracking,[13] and reconnaissance in a compact phalanx.[14] Numerous works on cooperative swarms of unmanned ground and aerial vehicles have been conducted with target applications of cooperative environment monitoring,[15] convoy protection,[16] and moving target localization and tracking.[17]

The Adorable Microbots That Swarm to Build Structures

What began as the first organism billions of years ago has diversified into species that fly and hop and run, whatever best suits them in their environment.

As Charles Darwin put it, “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Look at the explosive field of robotics and you’ll actually find the same thing going on.

The classic humanoid of sci-fi has diversified into bots that crawl on six legs, or walk on two (however cautiously), or even bound around on a single limb.

Each robot is outfitted with what’s known as an end effector—the tool with which it manipulates its world—which varies depending on the job the bot is assigned.

Working in concert, the robots can build out an intricate structure, some depositing glue while others stick in the rods, constantly gliding from the lattice back to material caches to resupply.

“You can think of this as kind of microscopic tweezers that we can open and close with controlled rate or controlled force.” Still primitive microscopic tweezers, to be sure.

(Gotta nitpick here: Magnetic microbots, as well as origami bots that you can steer around a digestive system with a magnetic field, don’t quite fit the definition of a true robot.

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