By Sairam Bollapragada & Rajesh Mohandas
A single ant or bee isn’t smart, but their colonies are. Inspired by Bacteria colonies, Fish Schools, Locusts, Bird crowds, Primates etc… the study of swarm intelligence is providing insights that can help humans manage complex systems. Intelligent Swarm robotics coupled with Cognitive Algorithms help improve the coordination of multirobot systems which consist of large numbers of mostly simple physical microrobots and nanobots. Swarm robotics systems are characterized by simplicity of individuals, local sensing and communication capabilities, parallelism in task execution, robustness, scalability, heterogeneous, flexibility and decentralized control. The Swarm intelligence market is valued at $447.2 million and is growing at 40% CAGR (Markets&Markets Research).
Every bot is powered with sensors, actuators, control logic, power source and software that essentially captures data, processes it and takes action, the self-learning faculty of such devices open up a paradigm of new perspectives improving efficiency and productivity while lowering cost and risk.
Data laced cognitive behavior of swarm robotics can form a solid case in ensuring great advantages to the farming sector and also in military services like surveillance/monitoring, hazards location (like gas/chemical/radioactive leaks,etc) and potential rescue missions, etc. Let us look at one or two use cases to understand the right applicability of the swarm robotics.
New precision farming practices carry the objective to be far more efficient and waste fewer resources than conventional techniques. The aim of precision agriculture is to apply agrochemicals (fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides) to the areas where they are most needed, at a given time, instead of the traditional approach to spray whole fields uniformly almost every day.
The Solution: to design a sustainable swarm robotics system with expected result to a reduced but more effective usage of agrochemicals to give a higher quality and quantity of product crop. These robot swarms would be distributed over a farm or orchard, collecting data like the number of plants and their fruits, so that the farmer can estimate total yields, optimizing the production chain.
Distribute a whole bunch of these little critters over an area, and you’ve got an efficient, robust autonomous system that can scale up — way up, for any size of farm, from small acreages to the factory-like mega-farm. If these precision farming robots are developed with affordability in mind, they may become a cheaper option for small farms in developing countries for whom large, expensive equipment would be unnecessary and out of reach. Of course, employability versus yield is a debatable point.
Usage of algorithms like aggregation, self-assembly, object clustering, cooperative stick pulling, etc are all ways of leveraging the swarm robotics to ensure we are fighting the regression of natural forces which were catalytic to our food needs by artificial human introduced ways to fulfill the gaps so that the ever increasing need for yields can be addressed.
As massive numbers of bees continue to mysteriously die off, the story of Swarm robotics can be visualized beyond the precision agriculture where the scientists are already doing prototypes of robotic pollinators for increasing the pollination and pesticide treatment activities for getting better positive advantages of micro-robotic application, ignoring the negatives of how the same can be applied.
Emergency Rescue Missions: Swarm Robotics to the Rescue of Mankind :
Limitations of humankind in terms of their physical and biological tolerances to the weather conditions has almost always been challenging. We have seen in movies where robots transform themselves into various shapes and adopt to suit the next desired action.
Robots are being created for typical rescue missions to move through an environment which contains large number of obstacles anywhere and of any kind: from fissures to deep vertical holes, from small pebbles to large rocks, from wires to walls, from long tubes to compact blocks, etc.; Sometimes robots need to be introduced into small holes, and once inside they need to overcome large gaps, to descend a vertical duct ending in a large void, and finally to pass in other narrow passageways (with grippers, mechatronics and super light-weight? – remember s-bots?)
Self-reconfigurable robots research is one area picking up where reshaping themselves to legged bots or snake-like shapes can help address reach constraints.
The swarm robotics re-summarized finally can raise a lots of hopes for the receding natural support ecosystem for many areas:
- Autonomous robots that are independent and can interact with each other and the environment for data collection for more predictive-productive algorithms.
- They are in large number so they can accomplish synergized outcomes through
- With scale and robustness you can add a new unit easily to the system so the system is easily scalable. More number of units improve the performance of the system. The system is quite robust to the loosing some units as there still exists some units left to perform – all however at an additional ask for management/monitoring effect.
- The robots communicate with each other and with environment to take the final decision with potential to converge to a decentralized coordination, not to forget the flexibility it shows with the ability to generate modular solutions to spectrum of tasks at hand.
Imagine if we created a whole lot of earthworms which would be a best thing to happen for a farmer. Imagine, a swarm of bees being used to address uniform distribution of pesticides in the given quantity to the crops to make them right-healthy for the desired yield… and many more!!