UWE investigates evolving 'swarm' robots

Issue date: 13 March 2008

Swarm of robots The University of the West of England (UWE) is a partner in 'Symbrion', a ground breaking new European funded project, which will investigate the principles of how large groups (swarms) of robots can evolve and adapt together into different organisms based on bio-inspired approaches.

The aim of the project is to develop the novel principles behind the ways in which robots can evolve and work together in large 'swarms' so that – eventually - these can be applied to real-world applications. The swarms of robots are capable of forming themselves into a 'symbiotic artificial organism' and collectively interacting with the physical world using sensors.

The multi-robot organisms will be made up of large-scale swarms of robots, each slightly larger than a sugar cube, which can dock with each other and share energy and computing resources within a single artificial-life-form.

The organisms will also be able to manage their own hardware and software, they will be self-healing and self organizing.

Professor Alan Winfield, (UWE), explains, “A future application of this technology might be for example where a Symbrion swarm could be released into a collapsed building following an earthquake, and they could form themselves into teams searching for survivors or to lift rubble off stranded people. Some robots might form a chain allowing rescue workers to communicate with survivors while others assemble themselves into a 'medicine bot' to give first aid.

“Whilst this scenario is one which is still some way into the future, the project we are working on will hopefully bring these possibilities closer. The robots have functionality on their own, but they can also combine together or adapt and change as the situation requires. The individual robots won't change physically, but they will adapt and evolve their functionally.

“Once the robots come together they will be more versatile - like a colony of cells such as those found in a jelly fish or a sponge. The different cells (ie robots) will cooperate to create the larger organism. In a sponge even if there is damage to some parts, the overall organism still survives.

“In this way the artificial robotic organisms might in theory become self-configuring, self-healing, and self-optimizing from both hardware and software perspectives.”

“The aim of the project is to develop the novel principles behind all this, so that we will be able to develop extremely adaptive, evolve-able and scalable robotic systems. In addition we hope our research will help to develop robot organisms that can adapt without human supervision and for new and useful, perhaps unforeseen, functionality to emerge. A part of the research will also be to write the rules that will ensure that emerging robot functions are beneficial.”

Symbrion (Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms) is a Framework 7 Project funded by the European Commission as part of the Future Emerging Technologies programme. There are ten partners in the project*. The University of the West of England is one of the partners. The only other UK partner is the University of York. The research at UWE will be based in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), a collaborative research partnership between UWE and the University of Bristol. For more details of the project see: http://www.symbrion.eu


Editor's notes

The project partners are:
University of Stuttgart (Germany) – project coordinator Dr Serge Kernbach; University of Graz (Austria); Vrije University (Netherlands); University of Karlsruhe (Germany); Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (Belgium); Eberhard Karls University (Germany); Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium); Institut National de Recherche en Informatique at Automatique (France); Institute of Microelectronic Application (Czech Republic); University of the West of England; University of York (UK).

For full details see: http://www.symbrion.eu/

The Contact at York is David Garner, Communications Office, University of York, tel 01904 432153.

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