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by and   -   November 8, 2016

swarming-botsWhat can swarm roboticists learn from policy makers, systems biologists and physicists, and vice versa? It is already widely recognised that Robotics is an inherently interdisciplinary field and that designing even a single robot might require input from multiple domains. In Swarm Robotics, interactions between robots add further layers of complexity. Indeed, the ‘complex’ nature of robot swarm systems demands approaches going beyond reductionist scientific models or traditional engineering design methods. Like many other emerging technologies, such as synthetic biology and socio-technical systems engineering, robot swarms can be notoriously difficult to predict due to their non-linearity, interconnectivity, hidden heterogeneity and ’emergence‘. Yet it is also this ‘complexity’ that swarm roboticists seek to exploit in order to give intelligent, robust, adaptive behaviours.

But what does it mean to describe systems as complex? How do these complex systems differ from the more easily understood ‘modular’ systems that we are familiar with? Vocabulary in this area is often dangerously inconsistent. For example, the terms ’emergence’, ‘complex’, and ‘complicated’ are used differently by different disciplines, and often differently even within the same discipline. This makes it very difficult to understand whether people are really talking about the same thing, and whether the systems being described are different in superficial or profound ways. On the one hand, failing to identify the underlying similarities between different systems (whether modular or complex) results in missed opportunities for sharing knowledge, best practices and methods. On the other hand, failing to identify the underlying differences between different systems results in practices and methods being misapplied. More broadly, many of today’s real-world problems require engineers, designers and policy-makers across all domains to think in terms of complex systems.
triple-pageTo address problems with translating between disciplines, Chih-Chun Chen and Nathan Crilly at the University of Cambridge have produced ‘A primer on the design and science of complex systems’. This introduces complex systems constructs by building them up from basic concepts, and contrasting them with more familiar constructs that are associated with modularity. For example, ’emergence’ can be understood with respect to a breakdown in how a system’s functions are mapped to the structures that perform those functions. Abstract diagrams that are independent of any particular domain are used to represent the constructs that are discussed. These are illustrated with worked examples that make the explanations accessible for those who have no experience with ‘complexity’. The primer is intended to provide both an introduction to complex systems constructs for those new to the topics discussed, and also a basis for cross-domain translations for researchers and practitioners wishing to engage with other fields when addressing the systems problems they are working on.

Being able to communicate unambiguously across disciplines and application areas would greatly expand the space of solutions available to all domains in solving problems currently deemed to be too ‘complex’. As a mature complex systems engineering discipline which is by its nature interdisciplinary, Swarm Robotics will no doubt have much to contribute to – and take from – this endeavour.

If you liked this article, you may also want to read these other articles on swarm robotics:

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by   -   November 12, 2014

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Agriculture is one of our most important industries. It provides food, feed and fuel necessary for our survival. With the global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, agricultural production must double to meet the demand. And because of limited arable land, productivity must increase 25% to help meet that goal.

by   -   June 18, 2014

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“Yet another ‘follow me’ drone” says Chris Anderson – after three projects launched this weekend, including his own 3DRobotics’ open source ‘follow me’ feature for android. Extreme sports photography is the most popular application of consumer drones and at first glance it seems like a no-brainer given the success of GoPro, the rise of the sports ‘robot’ camera tripods and the obvious extension of these trends into aerial photography. And really, just what are drones good for aside from extreme sports tracking? Neither the economics nor the regulations favor package delivery and most other inspection operations can’t be commercialized in the US.

by   -   June 15, 2014

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120,000 robotics patents have been published in the last 10 years, tripling in rate from 2004 to 2013, according to the UK Intellectual Property Office Informatics Team. Unsurprisingly, there was a huge drop in robotics patent applications in 2009-2010, although not all industries were as affected by the global financial crisis as robotics was. The preeminent country for robotics patents is Japan with 31% of patents published, the majority from Toyota. The US is in second place with 19%, followed by Germany (17%), China (10%), Korea (9%), France (3%) and UK at only (2%). Of course this is only an indication of the innovation activity occurring as some countries have greater propensity to patent than others.

by   -   June 11, 2014

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[Jaguar XF, ESC test by EuroNCAP – photo: EuroNCAP ]

Did you know that the majority of the cars we buy and drive today are able to act by themselves and maneuver themselves out of an accident? They can also beat the best human drivers in breaking accuracy and manage even the most finicky engines. Our cars may not yet be fully autonomous but they’re much closer to driving themselves than we realize.

by   -   June 3, 2014

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Nissan’s autonomous car prototype – 2013, photo:Nissan Global

Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, recently announced that the car manufacturer will produce self-driving cars within three years. Nissan has announced that it will have a self-driving car available by 2020, Google has said it will do so by 2018. Over the past decade, the conversation around self-driving cars has evolved from futuristic police chase sequences in Minority Report to figuring out which auto manufacturer will be first to launch a commercially viable self-driving vehicle. Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes Benz, recently announced that an S-class sedan had completed a 62-mile journey in the streets of Germany without a driver. Audi’s self-driving car successfully navigated 156 turns of the 12-mile Hill Climb course in Colorado’s Pikes Peak. Car manufacturers see self-driving cars as a way to eliminate road deaths caused by human error, reduce traffic, and free up time spent commuting – but how do these vehicles work?

by   -   May 28, 2014

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Google completed a major step in its long and extensive self-driving cars project by presenting its first purpose-built autonomous car, which is designed from scratch for its role and is not a modified conventional Toyota.

The as yet unnamed car is very small (looks smaller than a Smart) and can accommodate two people and some luggage. It’s probably electric and its maximum speed is limited to 25mph (~40km/h). Its most striking characteristic is that it doesn’t have any controls — no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals — and you can ride it strictly as a passenger, which is probably a strange feeling, but according to Google’s video not entirely unpleasant.

by   -   February 10, 2014

The_Second_Machine_Age_Brynjolfsson_McAfeeWill a robot take your job? Will a higher minimum wage cause job destruction? Or is it all media hype? What’s the truth?

by   -   November 28, 2013

ShanghAIGlobeColor_mini_0_0Guest talk in the ShanghAI Lectures, 2009-11-12

“It has increasingly been realized that some of the key characteristics underlying real-world complex dynamical systems (such as economical, financial and ecological systems) can only been modelled and thus understood and predicted at qualitative level directly.

by   -   November 11, 2013

The popular conception of farming as low-tech is woefully out of date. Modern farmers are high-tech operators: They use GIS software to plan their fields, GPS to guide field operations, and auto-steer systems to make tractors follow that GPS guidance without human hands. Given this technology foundation, the transition to full autonomy is already in progress, leveraging commodity parts and advanced software to get there more quickly than is possible in many other domains.

This article outlines some of the key technologies that enable autonomous farming, using the Kinze Autonomous Grain Harvesting System as a case study.

by   -   August 23, 2013

AUVSI returned to D.C. for 2013.

AUVSI returned to D.C. for 2013.

Amidst a climate of fiscal austerity and vibrant debates over the growing importance of unmanned vehicles in foreign policy and homeland security, the 2013 AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference returned to Washington, D.C., last week after hosting the 2012 event in Las Vegas. The event was not without controversy, however, as activist group Code Pink held a demonstration outside the venue and disrupted a keynote address. The show itself was a tale of two storylines as the exhibit hall demonstrated that applications for defense and law enforcement are still the lifeblood of the unmanned systems industry, while the technical program and panel discussions pointed to a growing interest to move into commercial industries. Here’s what you missed:

by   -   July 8, 2013

Over the last 20 years or so, a sense that science has become conservative or incrementalist has developed, and calls for change in the approaches to public funding of research have been heard from various quarters. Several notions have been suggested of what should be supported instead of “normal science” or “incremental innovation.” Among them we have heard calls for more “high risk-high reward” research, or for more “highly creative” science, or for more “cutting edge” or “frontier” research and, more recently in language adopted by funding agencies, that more “transformational research” is needed.

by   -   June 18, 2013

Food drone delivery ideas are taking off all over the place. But is it a business or just an advertizing stunt? Tacocopter was one of the first although still more of a theory than a practice. Stanford Robotics Club is carrying on the mission and delivering subs to students. Joining the ranks are an African beer drone, a UK pizza delivery copter and an aerial sushi tray. The OppiKoppi beer drone will be parachuting beverages to music festival attendees.

by   -   May 4, 2013

This article outlines the problems of today’s phone and online help systems and offers solutions to conversational systems of tomorrow. The article is about the design of hearts and minds for robots, considers the virtual voice as a legitimate robot, and takes a fast pass at the psychology of robot-human interaction.

by   -   May 2, 2013

Researchers from the Wyss Institute and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard have developed a millimeter-scaled insect robot that can autonomously control its flight. Their findings were published in the prestigious journal Science. The amazing high-speed video below shows the robot taking off, hovering in place and steering left and right on demand. Controlling such small flyers has been impossible so far because of challenges in fabricating tiny actuated systems, and the chaotic movement of small flapping-wing robots. You’ve seen a fly move around your living room, doesn’t seem easy to control right?





European Robotics
April 3, 2015


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