How would you like your own army of tiny robots that you could control simply by swiping on a tablet? Thanks to Georgia Tech researchers, that robot army now exists.
The Georgia Tech robot army isn't something from the Terminator films, though. Their robots are tiny, and meant to work together to achieve a common goal, in industry and during disaster recovery.
But controlling this army of robots is simple: all you need is a smart tablet and a red beam of light. To control the robots, you just tap where the beam appears. The robots follow the beam as they communicate with each other and figure out how to best cover that specific area. If you need them to move, you can swipe your finger across the tablet to move the light: the robots move to that new location. If you use two fingers in different locations on the tablet, the robots split up and cover both areas.
The concept is not only genius, but also lets anyone become a controller of a robot swarm, no robotics expertise needed.
"It's not possible for a person to control a thousand or a million robots by individually programming each one where to go," says Georgia Tech professor Magnus Egerstedt. "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."
For example, let's say there's been a major earthquake and emergency personnel have begun the search for survivors. These tiny robots can easily traverse the altered terrain, able to go somewhere people are not. A swipe on a tablet could send the robots into a damaged building, where the robots search for survivors and alert emergency personnel when they find them.
Another example is using the robots for agriculture. Because the technology is simple to use, any farmer could use the robots to consistently check on crops without having to physically walk down each field, speeding up the process.
What sets the Georgia Tech robot algorithm as different, though, is that the robots can "change their minds." If a user sends them to one area, that user can quickly change their path with just a swipe to send them somewhere else.
"In the future, farmers could send machines into their fields to inspect the crops," says Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate Yancy Diaz-Mercado. "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."
[Photo Credit: Georgia Tech]