Researchers control swarming robots with their fingers

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Georgia Tech’s GRITS Lab has invented a new way to direct independently swarming robots with nothing more than a tablet and your fingers.

With the increasing complexity and miniaturization of robots, developing alternative methods for controlling their movements in place of self-directed artificial intelligence is more important than ever. This is especially the case when considering the need to control large, and eventually multiple, groups of swarming robots either for the purposes of disaster relief, or (yep, you guessed it) military incursion. Thanks to Georgia Tech researchers, operators can now remotely-control specialized robots that flock in the direction that human fingers tap on a tablet.

It’s not possible for a person to control a thousand or a million robots by individually programming each one where to go. 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. Magnus Egerstedt, Schlumberger Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Fingers on tablet send swarming robots to the point of contact

The system involves tapping your fingers on a tablet, which activates overhead lights located within a specified area. Specifically, the lights illuminate a spot on the ground that’s calibrated to mirror the tablet’s surface dimensions on a larger scale. A group of robots then communicate with each other as they swarm toward and around the illuminated area. You can even highlight multiple spots simultaneously, to which the robots respond by splitting into two or more smaller groups as they flock toward their targeted destinations.

Tired military references aside, the researchers envision a variety of practical commercial uses for their uniquely operated swarming robots.

In the future, farmers could send machines into their fields to inspect the crops. Workers on manufacturing floors could direct robots to one side of the warehouse to collect items, then quickly direct them to another area if the need changes. Yancy Diaz-Mercado, Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate

This intuitive technology is not limited to swarming robots. Imagine using such a tablet, or a similar interface, to control a variety of machines like delivery, cleaning and surveillance drones. Simplified human control over robots here we come!

(quotes sourced from the Georgia Tech News Center)

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.

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