VIDEO: Breakthrough in swarm robotics mimics insect form of communication advancing artificial intelligence research

11/30/2015 - 15:42

Elizabeth Allen

An innovative, effective and low-cost system which replicates in robots the pheromone-based communication of insect swarms is now being made available to robotics and artificial intelligence researchers after an important breakthrough at the University of Lincoln, UK.

Swarm robotics is an emerging approach to the coordination of multi-robot systems, which takes inspiration from the natural world to examine the possibilities for improved interaction between robots and their surrounding environment.

In recent years research in this field has been important for advancing the biological study of insects, ants and other species known for their swarm behaviour.


Ref: COSΦ: Artificial Pheromone System for Robotic Swarms Research. Presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) conference in Hamburg. PDF


Pheromone-based communication is one of the most effective ways of communication widely observed in nature. It is particularly used by social insects such as bees, ants and termites; both for inter-agent and agent-swarm communications. Due to its effectiveness; artificial pheromones have been adopted in multi-robot and swarm robotic systems for more than a decade. Although, pheromone-based communication was implemented by different means like chemical (use of particular chemical compounds) or physical (RFID tags, light, sound) ways, none of them were able to replicate all the aspects of pheromones as seen in nature. In this paper, we propose a novel artificial pheromone system that is reliable, accurate and it uses off-the-shelf components only – LCD screen and low-cost USB camera. The system allows to simulate several pheromones and their interactions and to change parameters of the pheromones (diffusion, evaporation, etc.) on the fly allowing for controllable experiments. We tested the performance of the system using the Colias platform in single-robot and swarm scenarios. To allow the swarm robotics community to use the system for their research, we provide it as a freely available open-source package.