Problem-Solving Robot Swarm Goes After Our Books

Problem-Solving Robot Swarm Goes After Our Books

Teamwork in humans is inspiring. Teamwork in highly-coordinated robots is a bit eerie.

Created by artificial intelligence researcher Marco Dorigo of Belgium's Université Libre de Bruxelles, the "Swarmanoid" is a team of specialized robots designed to work together to solve environmental problems.

The team is made up of three separate types of 'bots: hand-bots, eye-bots and foot-bots, each of which serves a specific function. As you likely already guessed, the hand-bot is designed to grasp things and manipulate them, the eye-bot to see things and map out obstacles and the foot-bot provides locomotion.

It sounds simple, almost intuitive, but the actual execution is fascinating. New Scientist offers an example of how a "heterogeneous swarm" of robots might approach our meatspace reality:

When the Swarmanoid is first switched on, it knows nothing about its environment - a series of rooms with magnetic ceilings. One by one, flying eye-bots explore the rooms, searching for the target. Each one anchors itself to the magnetic ceiling once it's almost out of communication range from the other robots.

Once an eye-bot has spied the target, it signals its hanging comrades to activate the foot-bots. These rolling minions form a column from a central bot nest to the target, creating a communication chain for the hand-bot escort team.

Two foot-bots snap onto the hand-bot, escort it to the bookshelf, and release it. Then the hand-bot launches a magnet-tipped string to the ceiling and climbs the side of the bookshelf hand-over-hand, using the line for stability.

After the hand-bot grabs the book, it lets go of the shelf. Suspended by the string, the bot lowers itself gently to the ground.

While the concept of the swarm is nothing new, Dorigo's "Swarmanoid" is one of the best examples to date, and offers a very palpable visual of the idea for those of you not intensely familiar with AI theory. That video embedded at top-right demonstrates all of the concepts you just read about during the team's quest to snatch a book, and more importantly, it offers a glimpse at how borderline-creepy robotic teamwork can be.

There is a level of precision in their movements and decision making processes that just seems unnaturally coordinated. The emotional response in my monkey brain is similar to what I imagine hobbits feel when they first glimpse a giant spider crawling toward them. There's a definite sense of "this thing should not be able to move in that fashion," while at the same time, the rest of my brain is shouting "you're going to die in a horrible way."

Primal terror aside however, this thing is pretty rad, and I would love to see similar 'bot teams employed as live-in firefighters, as Dorigo envisions.

Source: New Scientist, via Geekologie

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Do they not know they're supposed to leave them with an in built weakness!?!?!?

How can we fight these things if they aren't beaten by stairs!?!

Wow that was pretty awesome to watch. The flying ones definitely sound like a swarm of hellish bees when they're buzzing around. Still, watching how all the little robots interacted with each other was pretty cool. Also, I'll just get this out of the way now, when they showed the interlocking mechanism for the foot bots my first thought was "We are one step closer to creating a real Voltron".

They seem to have taken alot from Prey by michael crighton

Great. So now they can spot and retrieve survivors to be executed.

That was cool.
Just don't give them GLaDOS level intelligence and we should be fine.

I sense the next generation television entertainement show is going to be small-robot armies pitted against each other... Yay!

Dutch and swiss building our robot overlords nice. Pretty cool stuff till they learn to think for themselves.......

Catchy Slogan:
Do they not know they're supposed to leave them with an in built weakness!?!?!?

How can we fight these things if they aren't beaten by stairs!?!

Yeah, I'm pretty sure this is how Daleks were created.

Every time I see or hear about one of these breakthroughs, Agent Smith's monologue to Morpheus rings just that much louder in my mind. "When we started thinking for you, it became OUR civilization, which, of course, is what this war is all about." [bold emphasis mine]

Too damn scary...

Wow, the way those robots worked together was awesome. It's hard to believe that they did that on their own and weren't remotely controlled by a person.

I see already the practical use of those bots.
Me: "Swarmanoid, go and bring me some cake."
An hour later
Me: "Finally Swarmanoid. Now go and get me coffee."
Swarmanoid: "..."

The future is awesome.

With increases in efficiency and design I bet the robots can do jobs about 10x as fast as people. Then that puts almost everyone who does unskilled labor out of work.

Worth reading: Manna, robots putting everyone out of work

Their built in weakness is: drywall ceilings. Just don't install a metal ceiling and these guys are stumped. The foot-bots won't be able to use their magnetic grapples, and the eye-bots will run out of juice from trying to hover all the time.

I wish the video had explored some of the more interesting aspects of how this was accomplished. this.

Did you notice how it said sWARMANOID?

Kojiro ftt:
Their built in weakness is: drywall ceilings. Just don't install a metal ceiling and these guys are stumped. The foot-bots won't be able to use their magnetic grapples, and the eye-bots will run out of juice from trying to hover all the time.

I'm sure the magnetic pads could be replaced by vacuum pads or grapple hooks. These are prototypes after-all and if they are toying with the idea of search and rescue I'm sure they've put some thought about how the system could work in an environment which isn't controlled.

Also this is the beginning of real-life Voltron.

"Future incarnations of the swarmanoid might be able to replace human workers in hazardous environments. Like libraries, or book stores."

That's really quite cool. A few more steps of redundancy could speed the thing along - make every 5th footbot in the path thing a hand-foot megazord/voltron, and you could basically pass objects up the line. And I assume other component-bots could be introduced into the system as needed/designed.

<generic comment regarding robotic overlords, and the welcoming thereof>
...That shit's getting old, guys.

That is mildly creepy....But also seriously freaking awesome.

This could be really useful.

The best part is when all the footbots click over to red. You just expect lasers or knives to pop out of them.

I can't wait for the future; it's going to be the beginning of a second renaissance except with robotics.

Wait...oh god.

They want to steal the jobs of hardworking firefighters! Send them back to Japan where they belong, damn robo immigrants.

There should be a sport between 2 teams of Swarmaniods.
Or a race! I can see many practical applications for these.

And its strange. Normally i fear things like this. But theyre so damn cute.

The scouter says Handbot's climbing power is over 9000.

This seems like a lot of work for what they do. It also seems like it could all be done by one robot, instead of ten. I don't really see the point.

MagicMouse:
This seems like a lot of work for what they do. It also seems like it could all be done by one robot, instead of ten. I don't really see the point.

yes you could technically achieve the same task with a single robot the difference is this can achieve many tasks in paralel.instead of seeking one book for example the system could be set to find dozens at the same time.

all up creepy though

All I kept thinking was... they need gun bots to guard them.

Although it could be an alternative to expensive bomb bots, using somewhat cheaper ones in swarms.

Clever, it could useful for future dangerous business.

The question is what limitations are there?

You do know that the only way they would rebel and take us over is if we programmed them to do that, right? I'm getting a little tired of robot overlord bullshit, guys. Please stop now.

I don't see the creepy at all. I thought it was quite fascinating, really.

I think the magnetic features could be replaced with dart hook anchors of some sort, if the eyebots could somehow get enough leverage to penetrate the ceiling without shoving themselves downwards. The eyebots could also be equipped with gear that would allow them to figure out exactly what kind of material is in the ceiling and have several ways to affix themselves based on the situation.

Leaving aside any wisecracks about Skynet, the Matrix and other robots-will-kill-us scenarios, that was still a bit disturbing. I actually jumped a bit when that hand-bot shot the cord at the ceiling, and its climbing motion looked rather eerie, as pointed out in the article. What's more, the buzzing sound of the eye-bot made my skin crawl; it reminded me of a swarm of angry wasps (which I'm already scared of), only this thing... if it's programmed to find you, it will find you. Also, the creepy background music certainly didn't help.
At least the foot-bot was kind of... cute.

Catchy Slogan:
Do they not know they're supposed to leave them with an in built weakness!?!?!?

How can we fight these things if they aren't beaten by stairs!?!

with a bigass flamethrower of course.
OT: well. maybe they will learn pacifism, so the takeover will have less casualties. hopefully. really though, science just seems to be going "ok so we cant do time-travel yet, the LHC is doing there thing... want to make robots that can learn? then we can teach them to build robots and our guns."

Imagine how awesome they could look...matte black armour-plating anyone?
Hmm, now all we need is a construction/repair bot and we're all set to let them take over the world so we can sit at home and watch TV.

Is it just me, or is that a Dragonball book that they managed to pick up?

If it is, we won't just have to worry about them being able to track us everywhere. Soon they'll be firing Kamehameha waves at us too...

Honestly I'm tired of people saying that they're tired of the people who scream Skynet. I'm tired of both groups. Live and let live, people.

Anyway, this is pretty cool. I'd like a pet Swarmy.

Catchy Slogan:
Do they not know they're supposed to leave them with an in built weakness!?!?!?

How can we fight these things if they aren't beaten by stairs!?!

I think it would make much more sense for them to program the three laws of robotics into all future robots and AI systems. That way as robots and computers become smarter, it would be inherently wrong for them to go against the command of a human (within reason), to say nothing of the impossibility of a robot uprising intent on killing of humans.

I think that comfortably answers most of the worries about robot domination. Even if domination occurred, it would only happen if the robots judged it to be best for HUMANS, not for robots.

 

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