Robot ‘swarms’ could be the future in industry and medicine, say academics

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ROBOTICS experts at a Yorkshire university yesterday predicted that robots working in “swarms” could provide new opportunities in manufacturing, medicine and the military.

Researchers in the Sheffield Centre for Robotics, a joint project run by Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University, have been working to program a group of 40 robots.

They said the ability to control robot swarms could prove hugely beneficial in a range of contexts, with tiny robots being used for painstaking medical work and larger machines in industry.

The researchers said they had already demonstrated that the swarm can carry out simple fetching and carrying tasks, by grouping around an object and working together to move it.

The robots can also group themselves together into a single cluster after being scattered across a room, and then organise themselves by order of priority ready to perform a task.

Dr Roderich Gross, of Sheffield University, said swarming robots could have important roles to play in the future of micromedicine, as so-called ‘“nanobots” are developed for the treatment of humans.

Dr Gross said: “We are developing Artificial Intelligence to control robots in a variety of ways.

“The key is to work out what is the minimum amount of information needed by the robot to accomplish its task.

“That’s important because it means the robot may not need any memory, and possibly not even a processing unit, so this technology could work for nanoscale robots, in medical applications.”

Dr Gross said that on a larger scale, robot swarms could play a part in military, or search and rescue operations, acting together in areas where it would be too dangerous or impracticable for humans. He added that they could also be put to use improving manufacturing processes and workplace safety.

This research has been funded a European grant and with money from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The robots will be demonstrated at Gadget Show Live, to be held at Birmingham’s NEC from April 3.