EU project I-SWARM

Two Extremely Large and Extremely Small Robot Swarms

The main aim of the EU-FET project I-SWARM is creating the largest autonomous robot swarm of its days, with 1000 robots, each of them in a size of 2.5mm in each direction, with 3 vibrating legs and an electrostatic lever. As a development platform for its bio-inspired algorithms serves the robot Jasmine (2.5cm in each dimension), which was with 380 interacting robots the largest autonomous robot swarm from 2005-2011. The robots that are to be made in high number have to be inexpensive and simple and need to unfold their full potential by the "swarm effect" that should kick in. Thus these robots are extremely limited in their capabilities, in sensing, in precision, in navigation, in localization, in memory, in communication and in energy budget. Only with an appropriate swarm algorithm that limits the functional requirements of the single individual can such a swarm operate well. In order to drive these two swarms, the BEECLUST algorithm was invented, inspired from observing the collective thermotaxis of honeybees and with a very limited set of functional requirements: no communication between agents, no memory, no precision navigation (just a fuzzy rand walk performed by the agents is enough) no map, and no self-localization. And still, the swarm as a collective can, for example, choose a global optimum target spot over multiple, even dynamically moving local optima in a complex search landscape.

The Jasmine robot was an ingenious invention, mainly by Dr. Serge Kernbach and Dr. Olga Kernbach at the Univ. of Stuttgart, now leading the SME Cybertronica Research in Stuttgart. These two friends brought me from studying biological swarm systems (honeybees and others) to swarm robotics. Together with Dr. Ronald Thenius, University of Graz, who was my PhD student in these days, we developed the BEECLUST algorithm and kicked of a series of project ideas that led to the projects SYMBRION, REPLICATOR, CoCoRo, Flora Robotica, subCULTron and ASSISIbf. This project and a group of involved colleagues, e.g., Prof. Cesare Stefanini and Prof. Heiko Hamann, who, like me, started in this project their major scientific careers and research tracks. These bounds still hold today and as we walked significant parts of our scientific trajectory together through various joint research grants and large international (EU) projects. Thus, this project I-Swarm was decisive for us.

One Jasmine robot and a 1€ coin for size comparison

Jasmine robots communicate locally via LED blinking

Full setup of an I-Swarm robot on a USB 2.0 connector

Early prototype of an I-SWARM microrobot

I-Swarm robot on a coin with a match for size comparison

CAD model of an I-Swarm robot

In its final stage, at the final project review, an interactive swarm of 380 Jasmine robots performed bio-inspired swarm algorithms

Jasmine robots dynamically recharge themselves at power-strips (copper strips on the upper border of the arena in the image)

My research in the EU-ICT project I-SWARM is in cooperation with the following international and interdisciplinary partners: Universität Stuttgart, Germany; Universität Karlsruhe, Germany; Scuola Superiore Di Studi Universitari E Di Perfezionamento Santa Anna, Pontedera, Italy; Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung, Germany; National Technical University of Athens, Greece; École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland; Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, United Kingdom; Universitad de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain and Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. In my lab, Dr. Ronald Thenius conducts significant work in this project.