Tiny, Autonomous 'Honeybee' Robots Swarm Like Real Insects

First Posted: Sep 19, 2014 06:52 AM EDT

You may have heard of swarming bees, but have you heard of swarming robots? Scientists have created a new type of tiny, autonomous robot that, in large numbers, can replicate the behavior of swarming bees.

Robotic swarms have huge potential. If a large number of simple robots can act as a swarm, they can prove to be a technological solution to common complex tasks. Because of hardware complexities and the cost of creating robot hardware platforms, though, current research is generally limited to simulation software. Yet the simulation of large numbers of these robots in robotic software applications is often inaccurate due to the poor modelling of external conditions.

The new open-platform system that the researchers created is called Colias, and is named after a genus of butterfly. It's actually been proven to be feasible as an autonomous platform, effectively replicating a honeybee swarm. Its small size and fast motion means that it can be used in fast-paced swarm scenarios.

Fortunately, the robot is also a relatively low-cost platform. This makes the replication of swarm behavior in large numbers of robots far more feasible and economical for researchers.

"The platform must be able to imitate swarm behaviors found in nature, such as insects, birds and fish," said Farshad Arvin, who helped develop Colias, in a news release. "Colias has been designed as a complete platform with supporting software development tools for robotics education and research. This concept allows for the coordination of simple physical robots in order to cooperatively perform tasks."

The robot communicates with other robots around it with the help of infrared proximity sensors. A combination of three short-range sensors and an independent processor enables individual robots to detect obstacles.

Now, researchers plan to work on an extension of the vision module using a faster computer processor to implement bio-inspired vision mechanisms. This, in particular, will make this robotic swarm far more efficient and useful for practical applications.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems.

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