4 Challenges Holding Back Swarm Robotics

The main factors holding back swarming robotics are the stigma of widespread robots, the lack of reliable communications, readily available distributed algorithms, and the cost of individual robots. However, these are quickly changing and the concerns can be mitigated by designing safeguards into these complex systems.

Photo Caption: A Transwheel robot robot could work alone to deliver small packages, but a group of Transwheel robots could work together to deliver large packages.

Poor Communications

In turn, holding back the development of coordinated algorithms is the lack of reliable, robust communications between robots. Often times since it is so costly to build robots, and they are built to solve a problem, the designers and builders of robots will set out to solve their problem and only afterwards “bolt on” wireless capability by adding Wi-Fi. They see how easy it is to add to a computer and get it connected to the Internet and just assume the same will be true with robots.

However, robots have quite different requirements for communications. For swarm to become a reality, robots must communicate with each other directly, in addition to communicating to the Internet. This means local meshes must be setup between robots. The communications stack must be smart enough to determine if it should use local meshes or external Internet communications to reach other robots or the Internet.

In addition, since the information being exchanged between robots may affect critical systems and prevent crashes and other dangerous behavior, the communications should use either redundant technology (several Wi-Fi cards, or a variety of communication tech - satellite, Bluetooth, UHF/VHF, 4G/LTE, etc.) However, this is also changing as there are efforts in academia to bring collaborative algorithms and communication to the market.

Fear from the Public

The last, and perhaps most troublesome, is the fear people have of the robot revolution. Many people in manufacturing are afraid of losing their jobs, however, there are still many people being injured and killed. People make mistakes, they often don’t select the optimal order of manufacturing tasks for efficiency. These jobs are often boring and repetitive. In the short to medium term people can augmented with robots so that they can be more efficient. People are very good at tasks that robots aren’t good at so there is still a place for people - they can just be more effective and safe with robots around.

With the recent press big names in the science and tech world have been getting talking about artificial intelligence running rampant and destroying civilization and humanity, people are becoming downright afraid to even imagine a future with robots as core enabling technology. This is so far from being possible that it’s laughable to seriously consider.

Example of a Baxter Robot designed to work alongside people.

About the Author

Jason Ernst · Jason Ernst, PhD Candidate, CS, is the CTO of Redtree Robotics. Ernst took first place in CODE 2014, Canada’s largest hackathon with 930 participants. Redtree Robotics develops the Hydra chipset, which is designed for communication between more than one robot.
Contact Jason Ernst: jason@redtreerobotics.com  ·  View More by Jason Ernst.
Follow Jason on Twitter.


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