March 9, 2017


Swarm Robotics – The New Coordinated Multi-Robot Technology

Co-authored by : Jishnu Sekhar Mukherje

Swarm robotics is a new-age technology, where the swarm bots interact locally with each other and the environment in a decentralized manner, thereby attaining the desired goal via self-organization. This technology has emerged from the biological study of insects, honey-bees, wasps, ants, and other natural swarm behavior fields. The swarm bots build a system of constant feedback through interaction, similar to the behavior exhibited by individuals in cooperation with others. In the case of social insects, the individuals remain unaware of the global status of the group. There exists no master who guides all the members in order to accomplish their goals. Simple robots in large numbers can perform composite tasks in a more efficient way as against a single one, lending robustness and flexibility to the group.

Compared to a single robot, #swarmbots will improve process efficiency, scalability, stability & energy utilization

To achieve a better understanding of swarm robots, a set of criteria has been identified that differentiates it from other multi-robot systems –

  1. They must be autonomous robots, able to sense and actuate in a real environment.
  2. They must be large in numbers, enabling cooperative behavior.
  3. They must be homogeneous. Different types of robots can exist, but not in majority.
  4. They must work collaboratively to solve problems, thereby driving scalability and efficiency. The overall goal should not be achieved by a single robot.


Task Allocation:

The division of labor is critical in swarm robotics. A distributed and scalable algorithm is consequently adopted for that purpose. Each member maintains a history of the activities performed by others via observation, and independently performs the operations by leveraging this history.

Two different methods are used for communication - the first one being the gossip communication scheme, where tasks are analyzed and processed in tandem with their announcement by other robots. The second one is executed through the interaction of light signals.

With swarm robotics, complex problems related to multiple tasks can be solved with ease. Some of them are:

Search and Rescue: During earthquakes or natural disasters, when people are trapped in rubble, swarm robotics can be effectively leveraged to carry out rescue operations.

Surveillance: Information about humans or objects can be gathered from distance and harnessed in IoT.

Terrain Mapping: A map of unknown areas can be created by deploying robot sensor suits.

Land Mine Detection: Mine detection is extremely sensitive, and defusing them is a risky and time consuming task. Swarm robotics can be used for this purpose.

Chemical Plume Tracing: Researchers are increasingly trying to adopt swarm robotics in this field.

Military: Improved range, greater precision and speed of action inspire the military to develop new weapons - heralding the next stage of evolution. This technology can disrupt human engagement in combats.

Comparison of swarm robotics and other systems --

  Swarm Robotics Multi-robot System Sensor Network Multi-agent System
Population Size Variation in great range Small Fixed In a small range
Control Decentralized and autonomous Centralized or remote Centralized or remote Centralized or hierarchical or network
Homogeneity Homogeneous Usually heterogeneous Homogeneous Homogeneous or heterogeneous
Flexibility High Low Low Medium
Scalability High Low Medium Medium
Environment Unknown Known or unknown Known Known
Motion Y Yes No Rare
Typical Applications Post-disaster relief Transportation Surveillance Net resources management
  Military application Sensing Medical care Distributed control
  Dangerous Robot football Environmental