Swiss company will manufacture and market novel robot "swarm" system for use in education and research
The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University announced today that it has signed an agreement to license its Kilobot robotic technology to K-Team Corporation, a Swiss manufacturer of high-quality mobile robots for use in advanced education and research. K-Team robotics solutions are used in more than 600 universities and industrial research centers internationally.
The Institute’s Kilobot is a low-cost, easy-to-use robotic system for advancing development of "swarms" of robots that can be programmed to perform useful functions by coordinating interactions among the many individuals. These swarms are inspired by social insects, such as ant colonies, that can efficiently search for and find food sources in large complex environments, collectively transport large objects, and coordinate the building of nests and bridges in such environments.
Following this inspiration from nature, robot swarms might one day tunnel through rubble to find survivors, monitor the environment and remove contaminants, and self-assemble to form support structures in collapsed buildings. The Kilobot is designed to provide scientists with a physical testbed for advancing the understanding of collective behavior and realizing its potential to deliver solutions for a wide range of challenges.
"We are excited to bring Kilobot to the market with a partner that has a proven track record in helping educators and scientists advance their research agendas," said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. "These advances in the lab are critical to ensuring that next-generation robotic swarms realize their full potential to help people and preserve the planet."
One key to achieving future high-value applications for multi-robot systems is the development of sophisticated algorithms that can coordinate the actions of tens to thousands of robots. However, for reasons of time, cost, and simplicity, the algorithms being developed today in research labs are only validated in computer simulation or using a few dozen robots at most.
The Kilobot system includes robots about the size of a quarter, a controller to program and manage all the robots at once, and software. The design allows a single user to easily oversee the operation of a large Kilobot collective including programming, powering on, and charging all robots, all of which would be difficult, if not impossible, using existing robotic systems.
Its design simplicity and low cost will allow educators and researchers to test their algorithms on collectives with thousands of robots and study these multi-robot systems in a physically grounded setting. The Kilobot system is particularly attractive for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for high-school students and undergraduates.
The Kilobot system was designed by members of the Self- Organizing Systems Research Group of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and of the Wyss Institute, including : Michael Rubenstein, a postdoctoral fellow; Christian Ahler, a staff engineer; and Radhika Nagpal, associate professor at SEAS, Wyss Institute core faculty member and co-leader of its Bioinspired Robotics Platform. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute.
The Kilobot system is part of a larger effort by the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robotics Platform to design robots inspired by insects–such as mound-building termites and honeybees. These next-generation robot swarms could be deployed in applications ranging from autonomous construction in dangerous environments and assisting commercial pollination of crops, to search and rescue operations.