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Video: Robotic Droplets Will Assemble Satellites
2/28/2013

Swarming robots, or droplets, developed by the University of Colorado, Boulder, may someday assemble telescopes and satellites in space.   (Source: University of Colorado, Boulder)
Swarming robots, or droplets, developed by the University of Colorado, Boulder, may someday assemble telescopes and satellites in space.
(Source: University of Colorado, Boulder)

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Greg M. Jung
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Swarming
Greg M. Jung   2/28/2013 8:41:31 PM
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Interesting article.  This concept reminds me of a swarming colony of army ants or cells in the human body all working together to complete a complex coordinated task (that one cell alone cannot do).

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Swarming
Ann R. Thryft   3/1/2013 1:00:56 PM
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Greg, that's a good description of why many swarm robot designs are being developed. The concept of robotic swarms is modeled after biological swarming insects.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Swarming
Cabe Atwell   3/1/2013 6:40:43 PM
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Would these bots just travel around in orbit to fix satellites, or would they be assigned to one, I wonder? What type of propulsion are they planning? Nevertheless, the swarm-tech never fails to impress.

C

William K.
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Swarming robot "droplets"
William K.   3/2/2013 8:13:51 PM
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I am wondering just what sort of repairs such small robots could be called on to do. Strength usually comes with size, and even working in concert, these would still be a collection of "small". An area of far greater concern would be if a "collective intelligence" should become self aware. That could lead to a number of unanticipated outcomes. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Swarming
Ann R. Thryft   3/4/2013 1:02:30 PM
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All good questions, Cabe. I'm sure we'll learn more if/when the space application ever emerges. So far, it's one of several the research team envisions, not an actual project in progress.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Swarming robot "droplets"
Ann R. Thryft   3/4/2013 1:03:16 PM
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William, the researchers mentioned primarily assembly, not repair. The repair mentioned in the article was done by larger robots, and on coral reefs, which takes very little strength: picking up and placing very small pieces of coral. And swarms of small robots have worked together to assemble structures both large and small:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W18Z3UnnS_0
http://www.idsc.ethz.ch/Research_DAndrea/Archives/Flying_Machine_Enabled_Construction

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Swarming robot "droplets"
Cabe Atwell   3/5/2013 3:06:04 PM
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These bots remind me of white blood cells. They will surround a satellite until it is fixed. That will be interesting.

These bots should also travel around and disassemble the derelict space debris and push it all into a decaying orbit.

C

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Swarming robot "droplets"
Ann R. Thryft   3/6/2013 1:23:26 PM
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William, your comment on self-awareness is interesting, but I think it's important to remember that self-assembly occurs throughout nature without necessarily implying an accompanying sentience.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Swarming robot "droplets"
Ann R. Thryft   3/6/2013 1:24:41 PM
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Cabe, great visualization & metaphor. I wonder, though, if they're too small to deal with space junk. NASA is working on a different robotic system for that, which we covered here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=249134

The satlets' size is not given, but I'd guess it's a bit bigger than these droplets.

William K.
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Re: Swarming robot "droplets"
William K.   3/6/2013 10:10:16 PM
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Ann, Of course self awareness is not what these researchers are aiming for , but others are seeking to make the robots "Real", using artificial inteligence. My concern is that the AI group will create something that leads to self awarenesss, and shortly after that we will al be in trouble. Just considerthe problem of being in a cloud of rbots small enough to inhale accidentaly, and being allergic to their case materials.

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