The New Micro Swarming
There’s a lot of news and developments in swarming. Swarms are working out communications and coordination for data, maneuvering, and autonomy.
One of the future events I often point to is interchangeable robotic parts. Meaning an arm from one robot assimilated into another robot. This would make for a group of vendors/suppliers who would specialize in a robot part, not an entire robot. Part of the problem with the internal robot language, ROS, is its difficulty in communicating between parts. In some ways, the new interchangeability allows each individual part as a robot to be smarter. And smarter together in synergy. A smart swarming.
This is a different approach to robotics. It moves beyond one centralized AI attempting to control the entire robot. Where several parts have the autonomy to react to a change in their immediate environment. The results are quicker and more accurate reaction times. Also, various parts could become more interchangeable. A drone could reconfigure itself to have two arms for a specialized task, for example. Robot designers could focus on specialized parts or unique skins. Or qualities for specific situations. A robot’s potential to do several different jobs unlocked. With the benefit of the cost attributed to new parts as opposed to a separate entire robot. Interchangeable robots in a warehouse. Or on the assembly line. Or farms. Other industrial settings.
This kind of connectivity/interchangeability would be useful in developing medical nanobots. These microrobots joining inside the body to perform several functions. Or complex procedures. Then disengage upon completion and resume their normal functions.
Further, in the future, it will not be long before two other paths emerge. Robots will be able to choose their own configurations to achieve their tasks. Even improvise. And if something happens to the main processor of the robot, some other part of the robot will be able to take over.
When a robot can configure themselves for a task, they will be self-sufficient. And when a situation changes and the robot can improvise to meet the new circumstances.
If the central processor of the robot goes offline in some way, another part’s processor could take over. Again, more situational versatility. Thus creating a new level of robot autonomy.
Even further into the future, robots working together will exchange parts or aid or repair one another. This replaces humans in cobot scenarios.
Another extreme in interconnected/swarming robots was recently announced by Particle Robotics. Each robot has a sensor that detects light. The swarm contracts and expands depending on the amount of light and causes the swarm to move. At first, this may seem rudimentary when it comes to swarms. But a vehicle with several swarms of robots would be a major advantage! A swarm of Particle robots can perform even if one in five fails. This is a critical development for robots. Especially in a remote or isolated environment where it is unfeasible to repair it.
It is wise to have a robot/automation strategy for your business that is open to new advancements in this field. This is a technological threshold where swarms of robots will perform a wide variety of different tasks. They will operate in unpredictable environments. An advancement far from the original swarming concepts and tests of a few years ago.
Several industries that could benefit from this technology. Oil & Gas seems the most obvious. Whether it’s on an oil rig in the North Sea, or pipeline inspections, or exploratory operations all in remote or inhospitable areas. A robot that can move on its own, even with some damage is invaluable. Oil & Gas has made great inroads into using and advancing robotics. So they should be set up to take advantage of these new technologies. Mining & Extraction industries as another great fit. Especially with the new humanless mining environments.