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Meet the 'swarmies'--Robotics Answer to Bugs

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"Swarmies" robots on a table with the software simulation used to develop the program to control the robots.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working to develop software that will instruct small, wheeled robots on how to work together.

Credit: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis

U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researchers are developing software that instructs small, wheeled robots to work together in searching an area for a particular material.

During testing, the robots were programmed to search for barcoded pieces of paper. However, future robots could use the software to work on an asteroid or Mars, searching for water and ice or other resources that can be turned into rocket fuel or breathable air for astronauts.

The researchers built four robots called "swarmies," each of which is equipped with a webcam, a Wi-Fi antenna, and a global-positioning system device. The robots are programmed to work on their own to survey an area, and then call the others over when one of them finds something valuable, similar to the way an ant colony gathers around a food source to split up the task of gathering the food and taking it back to the nest.

The researchers also are using a computer simulator to test the network with many more robots simultaneously without having to build the physical drones.

"Now people are realizing you can have much smaller, much simpler robots that can work together and achieve a task," says NASA researcher Kurt Leucht.

From NASA News
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