In current robotics research there is a vast body of work on algorithms and control methods for groups of decentralized cooperating robots, called a swarm or collective. These algorithms are generally meant to control collectives of hundreds or even thousands of robots; however, for reasons of cost, time, or complexity, they are generally validated in simulation only, or on a group of a few 10s of robots.
To address this issue, Harvard University researchers Michael Rubenstein, Nicholas Hoff and Radhika Nagpal present Kilobot, a low-cost robot designed to make testing collective algorithms on hundreds or thousands of robots accessible to robotics researchers. To enable the possibility of large Kilobot collectives where the number of robots is an order of magnitude larger than the largest that exist today, each robot is made with only $14 worth of parts and takes 5 minutes to assemble.
Along with its lithium-ion battery and rigid legs, each Kilobot incorporates an LED bulb, two motors (which vibrate the legs), a wide-angle infrared transceiver, and a microcontroller. An unlimited number of the little guys can be programmed via a computer-linked overhead infrared controller in under 40 seconds, and each have the ability to act autonomously, based on the parameters of that programming.
The robot design allows a single user to easily oversee the operation of a large Kilobot collective, such as programming, powering on, and charging all robots, which would be difficult or impossible to do with many existing robotic systems. The researchers demonstrate the capabilities of the Kilobot as a collective robot, using a 29 robot test collective to implement some popular swarm behaviors. For more details please open the free aper and the narrated videos linked to below.
K-Team Corp. is making Kilobots available for purchase, starting now. See the K-Team Flier and K-Team homepage linked to below. Contact K-Team to purchase your own swarm!
The researchers will also be publishing an open source release (non-commercial, Creative Commons) of all the electronics and assembly documents by end of November. So you can also make your own swarm.