The hardest thing about robots: swarming

What’s it all about?

Swarm robotics plays an important role in the development of collective artificial intelligence (AI). … Swarm robotics attempts to draw on the ways social organisms, such as bees, birds, or fish, use collaborative behaviors to achieve complex tasks beyond any individual’s capability.

One thing that comes to mind here, is drone swarms. It’s quite fashionable in China to have these decorating the sky for festivals like New Year.

But this kind of “special effect” drone swarms is still a very immature and fairly simple technology. In a true drone swarm, the drones communicate and collaborate, making collective decisions about where to go and what to do.

Typical swarming applications

So what would be typical applications of this kind of swarms? You can think of a range of applications, really every task where the collective is stronger than the individual, where you need teamwork to get the job done, swarming is important.

It could be military, where you need a lot of teamwork, and you’d have hundreds of drones being used as one single integrated weapon. It could be collective transport by the swarm of robots, for objects which are too heavy or too large for individual robots. But swarms could also be used to develop flexible systems that can rapidly adapt to new operating conditions. Think of tasks in environments that change over time, like patrolling, disaster recovery, and search and rescue.

Related to swarming, I feel one of the benefits robots have over humans, is their ability to get in sync very fast. Humans communicate very fast and intuitively on sudden but simple changes in their environment. But compared to humans, robots communicate infinitely faster when it comes to bigger changes and more complex info, as they’re linked to some AI system that keeps them all in sync. So I think in the future, we’ll see more of heterogeneous robots adaptively coordinate, interface, and share information from multiple data sources of variable reliability and accuracy.

That’s indeed one of robot’s biggest assets, but also one of the most difficult things where technology still has a long way to go, that is, how do robots learn?

Wrapping it up

  • Swarming is one of the most promising technologies that robotics can leverage.
  • Uninterrupted and faster internet connection
  • AI development

A question for you

What would be the possible applications of swarming robots?

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