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A swarm on every desktop: Swarm robotics researchers gather data with online game

Posted on September 10, 2013

The next experiment from Rice University’s Multi-Robot Systems Laboratory (MRSL) could happen on your desktop. The lab’s researchers are refining their control algorithms for robotic swarms based upon data from five free online games that anyone can play.

A swarm on every desktop: Robotics experts learn from public
Postdoctoral researcher Aaron Becker designed a new control algorithm that allows swarms of r-one robots from Rice University’s Multi-Robot Systems Laboratory to complete complex tasks — including spelling out Rice’s trademark R. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

“What we learn from the game and our lab experiments applies directly to real-world challenges,” said Aaron Becker, a postdoctoral researcher at MRSL. “For example, if a doctor had a swarm of several thousand microscopic robots, each carrying a tiny payload of anti-cancer drugs, might it be possible to have them all converge on a tumor using magnetic signals from an MRI machine?”

In the games, which are available at http://www.swarmcontrol.net, players use simple commands to move groups of robots through mazes and around obstacles. Sometimes the goal is to push a larger object to a particular spot. Other times the goal is to move the collective to a target or to have it assume a specific shape. Each time a game is played, the website collects information about how the task was completed. Becker said the data will be used to develop new control algorithms for robot swarms.

“The data from these games will help us better understand how to use multi-robot systems with massive populations to perform coordinated, complex tasks,” said lab director James McLurkin, assistant professor of computer science at Rice.

To demonstrate the kind of complex behaviors that can be achieved with simple commands, Becker videotaped an experiment over the Labor Day weekend in which a swarm of a dozen randomly scattered r-one robots were directed to form a complex shape—a capital R. To direct the robots, Becker used a basic controller—a simple one-button, ’80s-era videogame joystick that was capable of giving only two commands: rotate and roll forward.

“The robots are all connected to the same joystick, so each robot received exactly the same commands,” Becker said.

 

Read more at: Phys.org

   
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