Robot swarms

Written December, 2014

Researchers at Harvard University recently created a swarm of over 1000 robots, capable of communicating with each other to perform simple tasks such as arranging themselves into shapes and patterns. These “kilobots” require no human intervention beyond the original set of instructions and work together to complete tasks. These tiny bots are based on the swarm behavior of insects and can be used to perform environmental cleanups or respond to disasters where humans fear to tread. The concept of driverless cars also relies on this system, where the cars themselves (without human intervention, ideally) would communicate with each other to obey traffic laws and deliver people safely to their destinations. But should we be worried about the ethical and policy implications of letting robots work together without humans running interference? What happens if a bot malfunctions and causes harm? Who would be blamed for such an accident? What if tiny swarms of robots could be set up to spy or sabotage?


The 1000-Robot Swarm (Harvard Magazine)

Robotic Construction Crew Needs No Foreman (Harvard)

Like a Swarm of Lethal Bugs (The Atlantic)

Math That Pursues, Spins and Swarms: A Robot Exhibit at MoMath Aims to Bring Math to Life (NYT)
An exhibit at MoMath in Manhattan allows guests to control swarms of robots with the touch of a finger.

Surgical Micro-Robot Swarms: Science Fiction, or Realistic Prospect? (Robohub)
A talk at the Royal Society of Medicine introducing swarm intelligence and speculating on the likelihood of surgical micro-robot swarms.

Mini UAV

Google Robot Army and Military Drone Swarms: UAVs May Replace People in the Theatre of War (International Business Times)

Festo Unleashes New Robotic Swarm of Ants and Butterflies(CNet)

Intel CEO Controls a Swarm of Robot Spiders with Gestures(engadget)

Ping Pong Ball-Sized Robots Can Swarm Together to Form a Smart Liquid (Popular Science)

Controlling Swarms of Robots with Light and a Single Finger (
Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have created a system that allows people to control a fleet of robots with the swipe of a finger.

The Navy is Preparing To Launch Swarm Bots Out of Cannons (Defense One)
The U.S. Navy will launch a key demonstration of robot autonom next year. Thirty synchronized drones will be launched from a cannon-like device, then unfold their wings and conduct a series of maneuvers and simulated missions with very little human guidance over the course of 90 minutes.

Fortifying National Defense with Robot Swarms, Resilient Materials (ASU News)
DARPA-funded researchers are developing a system that would allow swarms of robotic machines to perform reliably in situations in which there is little prior data about the environment.

Commentary: Swarming the Battlefield (Defense News)
Details of the US Department of Defense’s long-range research and development planning effort.

Flight of the Robobee: The Rise of Swarm Robotics (The Guardian)

Robot Swarms Seen as Guardians Against Future Threats (Science Daily, Video)
Report on researchers at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta who are programming robots to work together.

An Extensive Review of Research in Swarm Robotics (Independently published conference paper)
Includes a classification of existing research and problems and algorithms in the study of swarm robotics.

Swarm Lab
An interdisciplinary research lab that studies the mechanisms underlying the coordination of large animal groups, such as ant colonies or human crowds, and their applications to complex problems such the organization of pedestrian traffic or the control of robotic swarms.