Thomas Schmickl

Scientist


Contact Info

Univ. Prof. Dr. Mag. Thomas Schmickl

Email: personal contact


Current affiliation:

Artificial Life Lab of the

Institute of Biology

Karl-Franzens University Graz, Austria

Email: university contact

Profile: university profile page

  • Researcher in the scientific fields of:
    Complex Adaptive Systems in Biology, Natural & Engineered Swarm Systems, Bio-Robotics, Bio-Hybrid Systems, Modelling Complex Systems.

  • Professor for Metabolism, Behavior and Artificial Life (here)

  • Founder of the Artificial Life Lab Graz, Austria (here)

  • Founder of the Field of Excellence COLIBRI (Complexity of Life in Basic Research and Innovation) at the University of Graz (colibri.uni-graz.at)

  • Basler Chair of Excellence at ETSU (Tennessee, USA) in 2012 (here)

  • Visiting Professor in HHMI grant SYMBIOSIS at ETSU (Tennessee, USA) in 2007 (here)

  • Science-Award of the Government of the State of Styria 2013 in “Simulation & Modeling” in the subject “Basic research” (here)

This page gives a collage-like overview of the different subjects of my research in recent years. This page gives a glimpse of things I did. To find more information, press one of the buttons on the right side in order to get a more detailed but still coarse overview across the subjects of my research. Alternatively you may want to open the links in the navigation bar. This way you can dig deeper into the specific subjects of my research.

Researcher with honeybees and robots

With honey bees and ASSISIbf robots in an arena setup

Researcher with 2 underwater robots

With two aMussel robots from subCULTron

Photos: Uni Graz/Kernasenko

My Research in a Nutshell

My research interest has always been on complex adaptive systems, which could be natural systems, like animal swarms, herds or flocks, or artificial swarm systems, like robot swarms or transportation networks. I am fascinated by the features of swarm intelligence, collective decision making and self-regulation in natural organisms most prominently in honeybees, but also in other social insects or organisms. Phenomena like self-organization, phase transitions, emergence, and pattern formation are the key features that interest me in these systems. My method is to decompose these focal systems into their intrinsic networks of component interactions, in order to reveal the governing feedback loops at the core of these systems. These insights allow me to decompose these systems into "functional building blocks", a perspective that generates a fundamental understanding of these systems. These functional building blocks can be easily translated and recombined to create systems in other domains, like robot swarms, morphogenetic agents or bio-inspired algorithms.

My second field of research is ecology and evolution. I approach topics in these fields mainly with mathematical models and computer simulations. I teach these subjects intensively and approach this topic also in many of my research projects on evolutionary computation algorithms, evolutionary robotics, modular and reconfigurable robotics as well as in other typical research projects that reside within the scientific field of Artificial Life.

Ultimately, I plan to bring these research interests together by aiming for an unified concept that I call "Ecosystem Hacking", which aims at combining my diverse research interests in order to create novel bio-hybrid systems that are partially living (organisms) and partially artificial (robots), building new "biohybrid animats" for monitoring, for supporting and for repairing the broken ecosystems of today's biosphere.

My main work on swarm systems and on complex systems is now converging towards three main directions that are detailed in the Topics section on this website: Ecosystem Hacking, Organismic Augmentation and Biohybrid Socialization.

Book cover of the highlighted book

My Book on Resilience in Ecological and Social Systems: Get it. Read it. Recommend it.

Here, I summarized my recent work in mathematical modeling of ecosystems and of social systems with two of my favored co-authors in one book. It shows how computational models help to understand dynamical systems - revealing a glimpse of what simple microscopic mechanisms might hide behind their macroscopic complexity. We start from very simple population models and increase complexity over multi-species systems, natural catastrophes to finally end our scientific journey with a deep look into the core of anthills, honeybee hives and paper wasp colonies. Find more details here. Find the book for example here. See the flyer here.

My Work in the Press

In the past decades my scientific work was covered by several press articles and features, please find a full list here. Many of these news features cover one of the projects I coordinated, see the full list of research project here. I update this list only occasionally, so the most recent entries might be missing. A selected set of shortcuts to features about my work can be found behind the buttons here.

Ongoing Projects

a robot, a mussel and some fish with a blurry artistic and neonlights-like filter

Living Technology for Proactive Ecosystem Monitoring

The EU-FET project Robocoenosis investigates how living organisms can act as functional components in a novel type of sustainable smart technology for long-term environmental monitoring in Austrian lakes.
(read more)

a honeybee queen, some courtyard bees around her and some moving worker bees in a colorized artistic picture

Robots Augmenting the Court of the Honeybee Queen

The EU-FET project RoboRoyale aims at integrating a team of robotic surrogates into a honeybee queen's court, in order to monitor her health, boost worker populations and to increase ecosystem service by pollination.
(read more)

a picture of the propotype of a HIVEOPOLIS beehive, looking like a treetrunk placed in a park-like environment on the campus

The Beehive of the Future Offers a Smart Future for Bees

The EU-FET project HIVEOPOLIS aims at rethinking the concept of a beehive, to make it more natural in shape and function, more sustainable in terms of material and equipped with top-notch smart technology.
(read more)

Current Research Topics

a honeybee on some blossoms collecting pollen in a closeup picture

Ecosystem
Hacking

In dystopian times of collapsing ecosystems, a rather utopian contingency may be needed: For example, reconstructing broken ecosystems with novel biomimetic robots might be a viable contingency. These robots can re-wire lost ecological interactions.
(read more)

several honeybees aggregating around a robot device with red light indicating a warm temperature spot

Organismic
Augmentation

One new way how we can affect and support our endangered ecosystems is to support their keystone species, e.g. honeybees or other social organisms with technology that makes them eco-effective. Biomimetics is key to this approach.
(read more)

a prototype of a fungus-made HIVEOPOLIS hive in the botanical gardens

Biohybrid
Socialization

It is important that any technological support for these social organisms is sustainable and is also economically and ecologically attractive so that our society and markets will pick them up, what is needed to be ecologically significant.
(read more)

two groups of bees aggregating on two warm spots, indicating in a false-color image (like a heatmap)

Complexity
of Life

Ecosystems are inherently complex on many layers: Complex communities are formed by organisms composed from complex tissues, cells and genomes. Thus, a deep understanding of these levels of complexity of life is key to protect life.
(read more)

Finished Projects

a picture of the subCULTron underwater robot swarm consisting of 1 aFish robot, many aMussel robots and 2 aPad robots

A Large Robot Swarm Explores the Mysteries of Venetian Channels

The project subCULTron goes even further than the project CoCoRo. It leaves the safe space of the lab and release an even larger swarm of robots (125 agents) to the Venice lagoon to collect valuable environmental data over months.
(read more)

a plant-interacting robot embedded in green leaves, equipped with multiple LED emitters and IR sensors

Creating Novel Bio-Hybrid Systems from Robots and Plants for Architecture

In the project FloraRobotica we introduce autonomous robotic nodes to communities of plants. Both types of agents, one living and one technological, interact and coordinate with each other. They create a biohybrid architecture.
(read more)

a picture of multiple Jeff underwater robots docked to the base station robot, in the background several smaller Lily robots are swarming

A Cognitive and Self-Aware Swarm of Autonomous Underwater Robots

The project CoCoRo studies how a swarm system can be cognitive on the collective level. To explore this, it created the world's largest autonomous underwater robot swarm of its days, a swarm of 42 interacting underwater robots.
(read more)

A composed picture. Left: fish robot dummies interacting with living fish, right: honeybee-interacting robots with honeybees. In the middle the pictures blur into each other.

Bees, Fish & Robots: New Bio-Hybrids for Interspecies Info Processing

The project ASSISIbf aims at integrating biomimetic robots into animal societies (honeybees and fish swarms) in order to exchange information with those animal societies bidirectionally. Deep integration of robots into animal societies is a key method for studying them from within.
(read more)

a robotic organism consisting of several robots that are docked forming a body with 3 legs for walking.

Modular Robotic Organisms Evolve Their Own Walking Gaits Without Programmers

The project SYMBRION aims at creating robotic "organisms" that teach themselves how to move their body parts consisting of autonomous robotic "cells" that are physically but reversibly docked together. Thus they can form very different robotic "organism" body shapes.
(read more)

a robot organism consisting of several wheeled robots for motion and some other robots lifted up in the air to be carried

Self-Reconfiguring Robots Change Their Shapes When This Is Needed to Proceed

The project REPLICATOR aims at creating large robots that consist of different modules with very specific capabilities. These robots can reconfigure themselves on-demand by docking or dropping modules in an active and dynamic way, governed by bio-inspired algorithms.
(read more)

a group picture of many cubic small Jasmine robots arranged in a regular formation

Make them Many,
Make them Small

The project I-SWARM aims at creating the smallest and the largest robot swarm of its days. Small in robot size and large in robot numbers
(read more)

6 epuck robots vthat have been upgraded with little antennae that carry temperature sensors (to mimic bees)

Make the Robots Feel Like Bees Do

The project REBODIMENT lifts the bio-inspired BEECLUST algorithm to a new level, as it re-establishes the sensory input that living bees have
(read more)

two hands holding a voltemeter to measure the current in the ATEMPGRAD device

Teaching the Next Generation

For STEM (MINT) education it is important to draw inter- or even trans-disciplinary connections across the fields. Hands-on work is even better than pure theory. (read more)