Tag Archives: swarmbots

Swarming robot droplets

The robot droplets are a bit bigger than you might expect, the size of ping pong balls, but the idea is intriguing and for those who’ve read Michael Crichton’s book, Prey, it could seem quite disturbing (from the University of Colorado Boulder multimedia page for ‘tiny robots’),

For anyone unfamiliar with Crichton’s Prey, here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about the book which features nanobots operating as a swarm,

… As a result, hazardous elements such as the assemblers, the bacteria, and the nanobots were blown into the desert, evolving and eventually forming autonomous swarms. These swarms appear to be solar-powered and self-sufficient, reproducing and evolving rapidly. The swarms exhibit predatory behavior, attacking and killing animals in the wild, using code that Jack himself worked on. Most alarmingly, the swarms seem to possess rudimentary intelligence, the ability to quickly learn and to innovate. The swarms tend to wander around the fab plant during the day but quickly leave when strong winds blow or night falls.

The Dec. 14, 2012 posting by Alan on the Science Business website describes,

A computer science lab at University of Colorado in Boulder is building a miniature, limited-function robot designed to work in a swarm of similar devices. Computer science professor Nikolaus Correll and colleagues are building these small devices that they call droplets as building blocks for increasingly complex systems.

A University of Colorado Boulder Dec. 14, 2012 news release provides more details,

Correll and his computer science research team, including research associate Dustin Reishus and professional research assistant Nick Farrow, have developed a basic robotic building block, which he hopes to reproduce in large quantities to develop increasingly complex systems.

Recently the team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a pingpong ball, which they call “droplets.” When the droplets swarm together, Correll said, they form a “liquid that thinks.”

To accelerate the pace of innovation, he has created a lab where students can explore and develop new applications of robotics with basic, inexpensive tools.

Similar to the fictional “nanomorphs” depicted in the “Terminator” films, large swarms of intelligent robotic devices could be used for a range of tasks. Swarms of robots could be unleashed to contain an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware after being launched separately into space, Correll said.

Correll plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. These behaviors could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks.

Correll hopes to create a design methodology for aggregating the droplets into more complex behaviors such as assembling parts of a large space telescope or an aircraft.

There’s also talk about creating gardens in space,

He [Correll] also is continuing work on robotic garden technology he developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009. Correll has been working with Joseph Tanner in CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department to further develop the technology, involving autonomous sensors and robots that can tend gardens, in conjunction with a model of a long-term space habitat being built by students.

Correll says there is virtually no limit to what might be created through distributed intelligence systems.

“Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells,” he said. “Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers.”

The scientists don’t seem to harbour any trepidations, I guess they’re leaving that to the writers.

NASA, patents, swarmbots, and auctions

NASA was selling some of its patents a week ago according to Robert McMillan in a March 29, 2012 article for Wired Enterprise,

Psst. If you’re thinking of getting into the intelligent smoke-detector business or building a swarm of nano-bots, NASA has a few patents for you.

In fact, you might even get them at a bargain price. They’re up for auction Thursday [March 29, 2012] in Los Angeles, at an event run by the patent-selling company ICAP Patent Brokerage. NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is listing them as part of a pilot program that has been running for the past four years, trying to make its space-aged technology available to the public.

Who wouldn’t want a crack at the NASA patent, “Swarm Autonomic Agents with Self-Destruct Capability?”

You can still find the listing of patents up for auction here at ICAP’s (patent brokerage) Spring 2012 catalog page. I was amused to note that the NASA patents were classified as ‘open outcry’ auction items. That’s exactly what it sounds like, from the Wikipedia essay (I have removed footnotes, etc.),

An English auction is a type of auction, whose most typical form is the “open outcry” auction. The auctioneer opens the auction by announcing a Suggested Opening Bid, a starting price or reserve for the item on sale and then accepts increasingly higher bids from the floor consisting of buyers with a possible interest in the item. Unlike sealed bid auctions, “open outcry” auctions are “open” or fully transparent as the identity of all bidders is disclosed to each other during the auction. The highest bidder at any given moment is considered to have the standing bid, which can only be displaced by a higher bid from a competing buyer. If no competing bidder challenges the standing bid within a given time frame, the standing bid becomes the winner, and the item is sold to the highest bidder at a price equal to his or her bid.

I also found that this event is more than just an auction, from the Spring 2012 Schedule page,

Spring 2012 Auction Full Event Schedule

Navigating the Catalina Channel: The ICAP Patent Brokerage Summit on IP Strategy and 15th ICAP Ocean Tomo IP Auction  

Tuesday, March 27 

Welcome Reception Lobby Bar- (7:00pm-9:00pm)

Wednesday, March 28 

Registration Opens (8:00am) 

Breakfast (8:00am – 9:00am) – Catalina

General Session (9:15am – 12:00p) – Point Vicente

Opening Remarks and Welcome from Dean Becker, CEO ICAP Patent Brokerage

Every Company is an IP Company – The “Glassybaby Syndrome”

Louis Carbonneau; The Point Law

Take-away:  Every company needs an IP Strategy

Practical Aspects of Intellectual Property as Strategic Business Tools – Swords & Shields

Speaker:  Peter McDermott; Banner, Witcoff

Take-away:  Co-managing prosecution and litigation – an integration strategy

Lunch (12:00pm – 1:30pm) – Catalina

Breakout Sessions (1:30pm – 3:30pm)

Commercialization & Monetization Strategies to Drive Business Value – Point Vicente 1

Moderator:  John Pryor; ICAP Patent Brokerage

Building Business Value Through IP Management – Point Vicente 2

Moderator:  Dr. Elvir Causevic, Ocean Tomo

IP Marketing to Build Business Value – Point Vicente 3

Moderator:  Jennifer Wolfe, Wolfe SBMC; Author Brand ReWired – invited

Networking Break (3:30pm – 4:30pm) – Catalina

Breakout Sessions Continue (4:45pm – 5:45pm) 

Commercialization & Monetization Strategies to Drive Business Value – Point Vicente 1

Moderator:  John Pryor, ICAP Patent Brokerage

Building Business Value Through IP Management – Point Vicente 2

Moderator:  Dr. Elvir Causivic, Ocean Tomo

IP Marketing to Build Business Value – Point Vicente 3

Moderator:  Jennifer Wolfe, Wolfe SBMC; Author Brand ReWired – invited

Dinner (6:30pm cocktails, followed by dinner) – Terranea  

Thursday, March 29

Registration Opens (8:00am)

Breakfast (8:00am – 9:00am) – Catalina

General Session (9:15am – 12:30pm) – Point Vicente 

Building Company Value Through IP – Lessons from Mom, Pop, David and Goliath

Speaker: Louis Foreman; Enventys

Take-away:  In the area of IP Strategy, one size does not fit all

Flat World:  International Patent Strategy

Speaker:  Robert Cantrell:  ThinkIP Strategy 

Take-away:  Managing global Freedom to Operate

Breakout Session Reports

Commercialization & Monetization – Moderator:  John Pryor, ICAP Patent Brokerage

IP Management Roundtable – Moderator:  Dr. Elvir Causivic, Ocean Tomo

IP Marketing to Build Business Value – Moderator:  Jennifer Wolfe, Wolfe SBMC; Author Brand ReWired – invited

Lunch (12:30 – 1:30) – Catalina

Auction (Doors Open 1:45pm; Auction begins 2:00pm) – Ballroom 

They charged a $1495 US registration fee with hotel accommodation additional to the fee. You may want to start saving for the next event now.

I wonder if anyone bid on the ‘swarmbots’ and if so, who? Finally, if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say these folks are firmly committed to patents as a means of control rather than as a means of stimulating innovation.