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Swipe to Swarm

Using a smart tablet and a beam of red light, researchers have created a system that allows one person to control a fleet of robots with the swipe of a finger.

In use, a person taps the tablet to control where the beam of light appears on a floor. The swarm robots then roll toward the illumination, communicating with one another and deciding how to evenly cover the lit area. If the tablet is swiped to drag the light across the floor, the robots follow. If the operator puts two fingers in different locations on the tablet, the machines will split into teams and repeat the process.

“It’s not possible for a person to control a thousand or a million robots by individually programming each one where to go,” said Magnus Egerstedt, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Instead, the operator controls an area that needs to be explored. Then the robots work together to determine the best ways to accomplish the job.”

Egerstedt envisions sending a large fleet of machines into a disaster area, where the robots could search for survivors. Supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the work was reported in the journal IEEE Transactions on Robotics.—JASON MADERER

photo illustration - hands holding tablet with small robots in background

Photo illustration - tablet: iStockPhoto.com, swarm robots: Rob Felt

ipad cover issue 3 2015

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