Use vibrations to control a swarm of small robots

Use vibrations to control a swarm of small robots

Zhijian Hao (left) and Azadeh Ansari in their lab. Credit: Georgia Tech

The vibrations of tiny robots could revolutionize research.

Individual robots can work collectively like swarms To make major advances in everything from construction to monitoring, but the small scale of tiny robots is ideal for delivering drugs, diagnosing diseases and even surgeries.

Despite their potential, robots’ small size often means they have limited capabilities in sensing, communication, movement and computation, but new research from Georgia Institute of Technology enhances their ability to collaborate efficiently. The work presents a new system for controlling swarms of 300 small 3mm robots (microbots) to assemble and disperse in a controlled manner without on-board sensors.

This hack is unique to Georgia Tech’s expertise in electrical and computer engineering and robotics and its push towards interdisciplinary collaboration.

“By collaborating with robotics scientists, we have been able to ‘bridging the gap’ between singles Robot “Design and control of the swarms. So I think the different elements were there, and we just made contact,” said Azadeh Ansari, assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

The researchers presented the work “Collision Control Clustering in a Flock of Small Bristle Robots” in IEEE Transactions on Bots.

Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology

Microbial Challenges

While larger robots can control movement by sensing the environment and wirelessly transmit this data to one another, microbes do not have the ability to carry the same sensors, communications, or power units. In this study, the researchers instead used the physical interactions between the robots to encourage the robots to swarm.

“Small robots are too small to interpret and make decisions, but by using the collision between them and how they respond to frequency and the breadth of the global vibration effect, we can influence how individual robots move and the collective behaviors of hundreds and thousands of these. small robotssaid Zhijian Hao, a doctoral student at ECE.

These behaviors, or characteristics of motion, determine how the microbots move linearly and randomly in their rotation. Using vibration, researchers can control these motion characteristics and implement motion-induced phase separation (MIPS). The researchers borrowed the concept from thermodynamics, when a vibrating substance can change its phases from solid to gaseous to liquid. The researchers manipulated the level of vibration to influence the microbes to form clusters or disperse to create good spatial coverage.

To better understand these separation processes, they developed computational models and a live tracking system for a squadron of 300 robots using computer vision. This enabled the researchers to analyze the behavior of the microbots and the motion data that gave rise to the swarm’s characteristics.

“This project is the first complete pipeline to use this MIPS that can be generalized to various microbot “We hope that people will find that using physical interactions is another new way to control microbes, which was very difficult at first,” Howe said.

Collaboration for innovation

The success of the project can be attributed to the interdisciplinary nature of the research. While ECE researchers had experience building microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to fabricate technologies such as computer chips or microbots, robotics researchers provided modeling experience. Ansari first created microbristle robots in 2019 from 3D-printed polymers, which seeded a collaboration with IRIM Director, Professor Seth Hutchinson and Professor Magnus Egerstedt, now at the University of California, Irvine, and Ph.D. Students Master Maya and Gennaro Notomista.

“We knew more about how to build and operate micro-devices, and they knew more about algorithms, modeling, and closed-loop and open-loop control,” Ansari said. “So it was a very good interdisciplinary work because each group benefited from the new perspectives that the others brought into this.”

more information:
Zhijian Hao et al, Controlling clumps of collision in a swarm of tiny bristle robots, IEEE Transactions on Bots (2022). DOI: 10.1109/TRO.2022.3189846

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