Swarm Intelligence in Insects and Robots

Robots are becoming commonplace in settings such as warehouses and state-of-the-art lightshows. These types of multi-agent systems rely on robots operating individually and in parallel. A large number of robots working in unison, however, creates opportunities for leveraging swarm intelligence, in which complex interactions among robots give rise to abilities that exceed the sum of individual agents.

Supported in part by a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, Kirstin H. Petersen, Electrical and Computer Engineering, is developing a framework to design intelligent and durable robot swarms. The project builds on Petersen’s unprecedented studies of intelligence and information sharing among honey bees and other natural insect swarms. Applications range from exploration and precision agriculture to automated construction.

To develop and test this new framework, Petersen’s Collective Embodied Intelligence Lab is creating a robot swarm capable of building and maintaining a structure that far exceeds the size of a single robot. Researchers will apply methods of information sharing in natural swarms to create a system that does not require central information sharing or extensive individual processing. In such a swarm, noisy or erroneous behavior by individual robots will cancel out before critically affecting the system as a whole.

Discovering how natural swarms manage intelligence and information exchange will permit drastically improved designs for robot swarms that can support the needs of our growing population. Petersen’s research on social insects could also inform efforts to support and leverage native pollinators and to help mitigate the rapid decline of insect populations.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$875 Thousand spanning 5 years