Here Come the Swarmanoids

Interesting piece on Wired titled “Bye Swarmbots, Hello Swarmanoids” (Link). This seems to be an alternative approach to polybots (reLink). From the article:

A team at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium is embarking on a 42-month research project to build and test a 60-strong swarm of small, autonomous robots — the swarmanoid — capable of collaborating in 3-D environments.

I like the division labor approach:

The three types of bots will join forces to create a swarmanoid and perform various jobs. The footbots will transport objects on the ground level, while handbots with specialized climbing and grappling features take to the walls. Some eyebots equipped with visual sensors will operate attached to the ceiling, overseeing the action below and feeding information to their robotic colleagues; others will fly.

Too bad there aren’t aquatic versions (e.g. swimbot, floatbot, whatever) and maybe a helo-bot. Remember those cool collaborating little helicopter bots (reLink)? Could use one of those to help transport a combo-bot to its work location.

I have to say though that I was disappointed when I realized that the phrase “capable of collaborating in 3-D environments” didn’t mean that each bot would be connected to a virtual environment in which they could run simulations before taking action in meatspace. Bummer that. I just figured that the little bot developed by Dr. Joshua Bongard that adjusted it’s gait to account for missing appendages (which got so much buzz a couple of weeks ago) and the procedural walk animation system used in Will Wright’s upcoming “Spore” videogame would help push robotics into transreal activities and cooperative efforts.

As an aside, while looking for a link to the Bongard bot, I happened across a nice website: GoRobotics. I’ve added the link to the sidebar as I intend to check it out. The most recent entry on a tiny bot being developed to navigate the human spinal column is pretty wild.