The general sessions on the second morning of SolidWorks World 2013 were all about robots – flying robots. Two expert designers discovering new approaches to human/robot interaction and behavior shared their unique experiences. Last time we featured Festo’s SmartBird that flew over the audience.
Earlier that same morning, Dr. Vijay Kumar, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, showcased the potential of agile aerial robots flying in a swarm.
Dr. Kumar’s Scalable sWarms of Autonomous Robots and Mobile Sensors (SWARMS) project brings together experts in artificial intelligence, control theory, robotics, systems engineering and biology, attempting to understand swarming behaviors in nature and applications of biologically-inspired models of swarm behaviors to large networked groups of autonomous vehicles.
Video highlights of Dr. Kumar’s presentation include (minutes into the video):
12:00 20 robots flying in formation
13:00 Flying robots collaborating to carry payloads
14:00 Flying robots collaborating and building a structure
19:45 A swarm of flying robots play the James Bond theme song
The project attempts to answer such questions as:
- Can large numbers of autonomously functioning vehicles be reliably deployed in the form of a “swarm” to carry out a prescribed mission and to respond as a group to high-level management commands?
- Can such a group successfully function in a potentially hostile environment, without a designated leader, with limited communications between its members, and/or with different and potentially dynamically changing “roles” for its members?
- What can we learn about how to organize these teams from biological groupings such as insect swarms, bird flocks, and fish schools?
- Is there a hierarchy of “compatible” models appropriate to swarming/schooling/flocking which is rich enough to explain these behaviors at various “resolutions” ranging from aggregate characterizations of emergent behavior to detailed descriptions which model individual vehicle dynamics?
According to Dr. Kumar, for collaborative swarming to work, three conditions must be met:
- Must have the ability to sense local information
- Must have ability to act independently
- Must have ability to perform anonymously, agnostic to who or what is next to you in performing a collaborative task
Dr. Kumar said the main goal of the project is to develop a framework and methodology for analyzing swarming behavior in biology and the synthesizing bio-inspired swarming behavior for engineered systems. During his presentation Dr. Kumar demonstrated some amazing things with amazing possibilities courtesy of his aerial robot swarms.
Attempting to find answers to some very complex problems by bringing together a wide variety of experts is what makes science and engineering fascinating and provides compelling reasons to get involved with the design and engineering community.
These two presentations on aerial robotics were among the highest of highlights for me at SolidWorks World 2013 – very entertaining and inspiring.