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Swarm robotics breakthrough brings pheromone communication to AI

Fri 27 Nov 2015

Computer scientists at the University of Lincoln have invented a reliable, low-cost system which replicates in robots the pheromone-based communication behind insect swarms.

Using off-the-shelf equipment including an LCD screen and a USB camera, the team has proposed what they call COS-phi, or Communication System via Pheromone. The artificial pheromone trails are traced visually onto the screen. As displayed in the video below, as soon as a bot picks up on the path, it is forced to follow the leader.

Other swarm robotics research has looked at alternative resources such as alcohol, light and sound to simulate pheromones and swarm behaviour. However, these are complex and expensive methods compared to COS-phi, which simply combines the LCD screen and USB camera with an open-hardware micro-robot and an open source localisation system.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 15.25.45Despite the basic approach, PhD researcher and project lead Farshad Arvin explained: “It allows us to simulate a virtually unlimited number of different pheromones and showcases the results of their interactions as a grey-scale image on a horizontal LCD screen which the robots move on. The system means that we can produce precise and high resolution trails, control the diffusion, evaporation and density of the pheromones, and encode individual pheromones using different colours.”

He added: “COS-phi also simulates the interaction of different pheromones that can amplify or suppress each other, resulting in complex swarm behaviours, just as they do in the natural world.”

The system is still in early stages of development and needs perfecting, with the team welcoming collaboration from robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) researchers. The next steps for the Lincoln scientists involve testing different diffusions, and increasing the complexity of the environments – adding obstacles, for example.

The team’s findings, published in the paper COSΦ: Artificial Pheromone System for Robotic Swarms Research, were presented earlier this year at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Hamburg, Germany.

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