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Communications of the ACM

ACM TechNews

Smart Swarms Seek New Ways to Cooperate

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Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are developing cooperative swarms of tiny robots that can collectively perform complex behaviors.

Credit: Complex Rheology And Biomechanics Lab, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing cooperative swarms of tiny robots called smarticles that can collectively perform complex behaviors.

The smarticles have short arms that they swing back and forth, and they respond to light and tones of different frequencies. They also can be programmed to adjust the rate at which they swing their arms in response to the other smarticles in their immediate vicinity.

To control the swarm, the researchers created an algorithm designed to ensure that an idealized swarm will move in a coordinated manner. The algorithm's randomness helps particles in a swarm avoid getting snagged in locally compressed states, where many isolated subgroups are clustered together but the swarm as a whole is not compressed.

The randomness guarantees if smarticles wind up in small compressed groups, there is a chance individuals will still decide to move to a new location, keeping the process alive until an overall compressed state is achieved.

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