Control your own swarm of robots with a swipe of your finger


Using a tablet and a red beam of light, researchers have created a system that enables people to control an army of robots with the swipe of a finger.


Have you always wanted to control your own swarm of tiny robots? Thanks to Georgia Tech researchers, not only is it possible, it’s as easy as swiping your finger across a tablet. While commanding an army of Terminator-like machines may be cool and all, these bots were designed to work unison to accomplish a common objective throughout industrial and agricultural settings, as well as in disaster recovery missions.

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As the team reveals, leading the mob of robots is pretty straightforward, only calling for a mobile device and a red beam of light. An operator taps the tablet to control where a beam of light appears on a floor. The swarm then rolls toward the illumination, constantly communicating with each other and deciding how to evenly cover the lit area. When the user swipes the tablet to drag the light across the floor, the robots follow. If the operator puts two fingers in different locations on the tablet, the machines will split up to cover both areas and repeat the process.

“It’s not possible for a person to control a thousand or a million robots by individually programming each one where to go,” explained Magnus Egerstedt, Schlumberger Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Instead, the operator controls an area that needs to be explored. Then the robots work together to determine the best ways to accomplish the job.”

Professor Egerstedt envisions various use cases for such bots, including tsunami-ravaged regions. For instance, the robots could search for survivors, dividing themselves into equal sections. If the help of machines were suddenly required in a new area, a single person could instantly redeploy them. Another prime example is employing the robots for agriculture. Given that the technology is simple to use, any farmer could now streamline the crop-checking process without having to physically walk down each field.

Impressively, what sets the Georgia Tech algorithm apart from others is that the robots can change their minds. In other words, if a user sends them to one area, that operator can quickly change their path with just a swipe to send them somewhere else. Egerstedt adds, “The field of swarm robotics gets difficult when you expect teams of robots to be as dynamic and adaptive as humans. People can quickly adapt to changing circumstances, make new decisions and act. Robots typically can’t. It’s hard for them to talk and form plans when everything is changing around them.”

What’s more, the tablet-based control system is geared towards everyone — even those without robotics experience. Now, if only we can deploy a similar army of bots to clean the house…. Intrigued? Read more from the Georgia Tech team here, as well as head over to its official page to keep up-to-date with the latest projects from the GritsLab.

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