Have use for 10,000 robots?

What would you do with 100 or a few thousand or 10,000 small robots that operate more or less autonomously, exchange information, and decide what’s best to do next based on information passed to them by their neighbors? An 11-year I know mostly listed chores that he found mundane and didn’t want to do himself. This is the August 2008 Control Engineering "Think Again" editorial.


ONLINE extra

Photos and more information on this topic are available here.

What would you do with 100 or a few thousand or 10,000 small robots that operate more or less autonomously, exchange information, and decide what’s best to do next based on information passed to them by their neighbors?


I asked an 11-year I know. The reply was mostly things on his list of chores that he found mundane and didn’t want to do himself. The list did, however, include a massive construction project incorporating a custom skateboard park. Though the construction extended well beyond his resources or abilities, I was pleased. The mundane and massive each represent good applications for robotics.


Will an 11-year-old see the day when swarms of robots help humanity? Perhaps. James McLurkin, MIT roboticist uses 24 robots smaller than a toaster for a stage demonstration that explains three globally important things engineers should do. (Inciting engineering excitement among young people is one.) McLurkin, a graduate student at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, works with professor Leslie Kaelbling researching distributed algorithms for swarms of mobile robots. They’re using local interactions among nearby robots to produce large-scale group behaviors from the entire swarm. Other potential applications include:


  • Swarm into an earthquake zone with heat sensors and direct cockroach sized robots to scurry through rubble, analyze data on the rubble, and direct a few brontosaurus-sized rubble-removing robots to rescue survivors.

  • Invade, find, and destroy cancer cells hidden in tissue.

  • Go to Mars to explore , compare notes, and adapt the mission as needed based on information gathered and shared.


The stage demonstration simulated how a robotic swarm getting off a space ship might handle challenges with a dispersion algorithm, transfer leadership, form groups according to need, secure a perimeter, and return to “home.”


“I don’t know what this one thinks he’s doing ,” McLurkin laughed as he gathered a wandering robot. Later, as the robots tried to line up, a clump formed as they moved and bumped each other. “They don’t have knot-rectifier software,” McLurkin smiled, moving a few of the robots outside the group. With the extra space, the robots lined up just fine.




ONLINE extra on robotics


Join the discussion. Read and see photos from Swarm robotics: Debugged naturally for 120 million years .” What would you do with swarm robotics? What are the three things engineers should be doing? Also link to




Read a blog about automated vehicles .


No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Safety for 18 years, warehouse maintenance tips, Ethernet and the IIoT, GAMS 2016 recap
2016 Engineering Leaders Under 40; Future vision: Where is manufacturing headed?; Electrical distribution, redefined
Strategic outsourcing delivers efficiency; Sleeve bearing clearance; Causes of water hammer; Improve air quality; Maintenance safety; GAMS preview
SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
Safety at every angle, Big Data's impact on operations, bridging the skills gap
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Applying network redundancy; Overcoming loop tuning challenges; PID control and networks
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing arc flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role of plant safety and offers advice on best practices.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me