Talk on Swarm Robotics — Dr Roderick Gross — 30 March 2015.

roderich-gross-185pxDr Roderick Gross is a senior lec­turer in robot­ics at the University of Sheffield.  His Department is research­ing the use of small, moving robots.  It has the second largest “swarm” of robots in the world.

swarm robotics
A swarm of robots at Sheffield University

There is great interest in the beha­viour of swarms of creatures that indi­vidu­ally have lim­ited intel­li­gence.  When you con­sider the quite com­plex and large struc­tures pro­duced by ter­mites or how fish increase their pro­tec­tion from pred­at­ors by trav­el­ling in shoals, you have res­ults that are greater than the sum of the indi­vidual parts.  The interest in swarms is that only small “brains” are involved.  Our tra­di­tional image of a moving robot is some­thing with arms and a head that might be found in Star Wars.  Such machines have large com­puters that are expens­ive to build and to run.  Roderick is inter­ested in simple machines with small lim­ited com­put­ing power that tend to be light weight and use little energy.  Machines that use solar energy or small bat­ter­ies can move around unres­tric­ted.

One area of research is the use of robots that under­take set tasks without the need to con­stantly be con­trolled from a super com­puter.  An example of an applic­a­tion may be in agri­cul­ture where a large number of small robots would go up and down rows of plants admin­is­ter­ing water and feed just to the indi­vidual plants as required.  This might be more effi­cient in the use of water and feed and would not com­pact the land the way that cur­rent farm machinery does.

There is now talk of deliv­er­ing mer­chand­ise bought on the web by drones.  Such drones would have to avoid crash­ing into things and other drones and pos­sibly help each other to carry heav­ier items. We are into the area of swarm robot­ics.  As robots can oper­ate in areas that may be dan­ger­ous for humans, search and rescue may be another area.

Roderick Gross fully grabbed the interest of his audi­ence as it became appar­ent that a new age may be just around the corner and it is being developed now in labor­at­or­ies just down the road from the meet­ing venue.