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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Flying Robots Swarm SolidWorks World 2013

February 1st, 2013 by Jeff Rowe

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:

  1. Must have the ability to sense local information
  2. Must have ability to act independently
  3. 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.

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One Response to “Flying Robots Swarm SolidWorks World 2013”

  1. Dennis Nagy says:

    Great Blog, Jeff! Thanks for bringing this great presentation/video to those of us who didn’t attend Solidworks World this year. Ties in well with this week’s Time Magazine cover story on Drones and Michael Chrichton’s 2002 novel “Prey,” which seemed further “out there” in 2002 than this video now shows how far R&D has come in the 10 intervening years.

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