There's A New Swarming Robot On The Block - BOBbot
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Sunday, 09 May 2021

Robots small enough to operate in swarms are nothing new, but BOBbot is bigger than most and has a secret in its body -magnets.

BOBbot stands for "behaving orgainizing buzzing bots", but why let an acronym ruin a good name. Previous robot swarms have been based on much simpler robots. BOBbot is bigger and more sophisticated. Each is 3D printed and has a vibrating brush which moves it. It is light-sensitive and has two magenets inside its case.


The thrust of the research so far seems to be about testing out the equations of self-organizing particle systems, but they also show how simple algorithms can be used to co-operatively move objects larger than themselves:

I've been watching developments in swarm robotics for some time and to be honest I've been a little disillusioned by the progress. Something like the nanobots of Sci Fi still seem to be a long way off. The small bots used always seem to lack mobility and intelligence. Yes the idea may be to work collectively, but collective algorithms are limited by the intelligence of the individual. At the moment the research seems to be at the level of statistical physics, rather than useful robotics:

In this paper, we use mathematical ideas from distributed computing and statistical physics to create task-oriented cohesive granular media composed of simple interacting robots called BOBbots. As predicted by the theory, the BOBbots aggregate compactly with stronger magnets (corresponding to large bias parameter λ) and disperse with weaker magnets (or small λ). Simulations capturing the physics governing the BOBbots’ motions and interactions further confirm the predicted phase change with larger numbers of BOBbots. The collective transport task then demonstrates the utility of the aggregation algorithm.

Given the low cost and power of devices such as the Raspberry Pi Pico, perhaps what we need is an open source project to create a robot replicator which can 3D-print finished robots that cost less than $10 per device.

  • Harry Fairhead has a hardware background and, having worked with microprocessors and electronics in general, for many years, he is an enthusiastic proponent of robotics and embedded computing. Author of several recent books on the IoT, his latest is Programming the Raspberry Pi Pico in C (I/O Press).

More Information

Programming active cohesive granular matter with mechanically induced phase changes Shengkai Li, Bahnisikha Dutta, Sarah Cannon, Joshua J. Daymude, Ram Avinery, Enes Aydin, Andréa W. Richa, Daniel I. Goldman, Dana Randall

Simple Robots, Smart Algorithms: Meet the BOBbots

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 09 May 2021 )