November 1, 2003
Novembers Scientific American features An Army of Small Robots, by ECE Department Head Pradeep Khosla and graduate students Robert Grabowski and Luis Navarro-Serment. The authors are building millibots: teams of tiny robots that work together for espionage, surveillance, and search and rescue missions. With modules for mobility, control, and sensing, millibots can measure the distance to obstacles, detect heat, shoot video, and transmit radio.
Teamwork helps the machines overcome the limitations of size and battery power; their specialization allows them to be customized for each operation; some can map territory, while others provide feedback or carry sensors. The robots can join together to accomplish a task, such as climbing a ledge or stairs, and then separate to carry out another job. Millibot interaction is based on a flexible chain of command.
Robotics researchers have been engaged in a flurry of activity since they were challenged in 1998 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop tiny reconnaissance robots for soldiers, firefighters, and rescue workers. Scientists have explored many different types of solutions, some mimicking insect behavior. Although small robot teams are still in the laboratory phases of development today, their study has many potential applications for the future.
*The members of the millibot team mentioned in the article are Chris Paredis, Ben Brown, Curt Bererton, and Mike Vande Weghe.