Engineering Materials

Tiny Robots Fly in Swarms

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Jon Titus
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GRASP Lab and wireless-comm modules
Jon Titus   3/3/2012 1:57:59 PM
The GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania has its own Web site: https://www.grasp.upenn.edu/, where readers can find more information about the swarms of airborne robotic modules and other fascinating projects.  It's interesting that the lab used the Mica2 "motes" from Crossbow Technology to communicate among themselves. Unfortunately, the company gave up that aspect of communications, although many other companies manufacture wireless-sensor devices.

Libelium, for example, sells a line of Waspmote boards and transceivers, and ANT Wireless has created a protocol for sensor "swarms." Texas Instruments and Nordic Semiconductor have licenses to use the ANT protocol in wireless transceivers. Find more information at: www.nordicsemi.com/eng/Products/ANT and atwww.ti.com/lsds/ti/microcontroller/rf_mcu/product_search.page?family=BTANT.  The ANT protocol communicates over a Bluetooth-type channel and does not use IEEE 802.15.4 radios.


Companies such as Texas Instruments and Microchip Technology have their own protocols; SimpliciTI and MiWi respectively, or you can use the basic IEEE 802.15.4 transceivers alone or with a standard ZigBee protocol. The latter protocol, though, requires a lot of software overhead.

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tiny robots fly in swarms
vimalkumarp   3/3/2012 4:46:23 AM
Janine Benyus would love to showcase this video for her biomimicry demonstrations. This is really an inspiring work and will send the pulse raising for the young engineers. This is the right combination of design, art, symmetry and above all clinical precision. Thanks for this article

Charles Murray
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Re: Nano
Charles Murray   3/2/2012 6:15:58 PM
The video of the system is awesome. It's amazing how little latency there is in the communications, which enables these devices to swarm in patterns and actually fly in a figure eights.

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apresher   3/2/2012 2:47:39 PM
Definitely not a nano design by any stretch of the imagination.  But it would be interesting to learn more about the fundamentals.  They seem to fly with a great deal of agility.  Curious about the controls.  Any more information available on this yet, Ann?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Another page from Mother Nature
Ann R. Thryft   3/2/2012 11:51:53 AM

I like the biomicmickry apps, too. I think they're fun, and show how clever we humans can be, imitating Nature (tongue firmly in cheek).

To answer your question, although undisclosed military apps appear to be the main ones for these little robots (which sound like a bunch of big mosquitos in the video), other possibilities include post-disaster rescue work.

Beth Stackpole
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Another page from Mother Nature
Beth Stackpole   3/2/2012 6:44:39 AM
I love these examples of research that borrows behaviors or materials qualities from Mother Nature. I get the benefit of the swarm approach for military applications. What other more mainstream/commercial applications might this behavior/capability benefit when it comes to use of robotics?

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