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Engineering Materials

Slideshow: Robot Ants, Termites & Honeybees Get Autonomous

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Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Looks vs function
Ann R. Thryft   3/27/2014 1:21:24 PM
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It's funny, I also thought insect queens might direct their worker bees until I learned more about swarming behavior in robotics. But, as we explained, swarming behavior does not operate with a master/slave paradigm. Which is one of the thins that makes it so interesting--how do they communicate and make decisions? I think it's cool that roboticists are contributing to our knowledge of  biology.



Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Looks vs function
Ann R. Thryft   3/25/2014 11:22:55 AM
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I'm with you on that one, Liz. Big Dog is pretty creepy. Actually, it looks a lot more like a bug in those videos.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Looks vs function
Elizabeth M   3/25/2014 5:32:32 AM
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Indeed they are, Ann, and while that evolution is fascinating it's also a bit scary. I don't mind robots the size of insects becoming autonomous but it gets a little more interesting (and safety becomes a bigger concern) when the robots are larger, like the Big Dog series from Boston Dynamics, for example.

far911
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Re: Looks vs function
far911   3/21/2014 2:25:15 PM
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So the surveyor will act like queen bee for these robots. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Looks vs function
Ann R. Thryft   3/21/2014 11:44:17 AM
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That's certainly true about communications. To me, how swarming bots communicate is one of the most interesting aspects of their design.

Battar
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Re: Looks vs function
Battar   3/20/2014 11:29:06 AM
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Insects can afford redundancy as, in evolutionary terms, it's cheaper than developing intelligence. Swarming bots will need some kind of network communication, either hub-and-spoke type central synchronization, or ring type in which information is handed off from bot to bot. Adapting on the fly means that the other bots in the swarm adapt to a complementary, not identical task, so each robot has to have some idea of what the others are doing. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Looks vs function
Ann R. Thryft   3/20/2014 11:07:26 AM
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Thanks, Liz. Autonomous robots are "evolving" in leaps and bounds.



Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Looks vs function
Ann R. Thryft   3/20/2014 11:04:44 AM
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Battar, real swarming insects do have a queen, but she does not command their actions and their swarming behavior does not operate the way you described (master/slave). It's been studied for several years now by roboticists, and is more complex and interesting than that model. Early swarming robots were centrally controlled due to technology and design limitations. Autonomous swarming bots are more flexible. Swarming bots do not necessarily carry out the same task--they are usually programmed to carry out different tasks that are part of a larger one, and the more sophisticated ones can adapt on the fly (so to speak). For more info check out the numerous DN stories we've done on swarming bots and the SWARMS project site
http://www.swarms.org/



Battar
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Re: Looks vs function
Battar   3/20/2014 9:38:51 AM
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Real ants and bees have a queen ant/queen bee, in other words one controlling master and multiple slaves. Any other arrangement would result in wasteful redundancy, as multiple robots simultaneously attempt to carry out the same task. 

I suspect that these wifi enabled robots receive synchronization commands from a central computer.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Looks vs function
Elizabeth M   3/20/2014 8:53:55 AM
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This is interesting, Ann! I'd seen something about this on Google and I was really impressed. I agree with you--that these "termites" are quite interesting in their behavior, and the fact that they can act this way autonomously is especially compelling. This type of intelligence could have a lot of real-world applications.

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