April 22 - Researchers at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta are programming robots to work together. The scientists believe that in the future, robotic swarms could play an important role in assessing threats at high profile events like the Boston Marathon where two deadly bombs went off last week. Ben Gruber has more.
For these robots...timing is everything... They have been taught to play Beethoven's 'Fur Elise' on a piano projected on the floor. But instead of programming each robot individually, researchers led by Professor Magnus Egerstedt, have directed the entire group to accomplish the task as a team. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MAGNUS EGERSTEDT, PROFESSOR OF ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING, GEORGIA TECH UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We really have no way of building one robot that can do everything so we are building in redundancy meaning that we have lots of different robots that together can solve a task the individual robots can not ." The robots communicate with one another wirelessly with built in sensors. Pre-programmed algorithms in the controlling software serve as the language each robot uses to define and solve problems as a group. In this experiment the robots are mimicking Lions and Gazelles. The lions soon learn that catching their prey is easier if they work together, a concept Egerstedt says has obvious application for humans as well. He sees potential for swarm robotics in fields like security and defense, where groups of robots could cover large areas as a surveillance team., or in search and rescue missions after disasters where buildings have collapsed. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MAGNUS EGERSTEDT, PROFESSOR OF ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING, GEORGIA TECH UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The robots playing Fur Elise, playing the piano, this could just as well be robots having to be at certain locations at certain points in time to, for instance, clear threats or there might be an earthquake and you want to go at certain points in certain times to make sure that it is safe to be there." Egerstedt says his research is close to bringing swarm robotics out of the lab, and into the world. All his system needs he says, is some fine-tuning before it's ready to go.