In nature, groups of thousands of individuals cooperate to create complex structure purely through local interactions – from cells that form complex organisms, to social insects like termites that build meter-high mounds and army ants that self-assemble entire nests, to the complex and mesmerizing motion of fish schools and bird flocks. What makes these systems so fascinating to scientists and engineers alike, is that even though each individual has limited ability, as a collective they achieve tremendous complexity.
What would it take to create our own artificial collectives of the scale and complexity that nature achieves? My lab investigates this question by using inspiration from biological collectives to create robotic systems, e.g. the Kilobot thousand robot swarm inspired by cells, and the Termes robots inspired by mound-building termites. In this talk, I will discuss a recent project in my group – Eciton robotica - to create a self-assembling swarm of soft climbing robots inspired by the living architectures of army ants. Our work spans soft robotics, new theoretical models of self-organized self-assembly, and new field experiments in biology. Most critically, our work derives from the collective intelligence of engineers and scientists working together.