Taming the Swarm
Speaker: Radhika Nagpal, Harvard University
Series: MAE Departmental Seminars
Location: Bowen Hall Room 222
Date/Time: Friday, November 22, 2013, 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Seminar in Friend Center Room 113
Biological systems, from cells to social insects, get tremendous mileage from the cooperation of vast numbers of cheap, and limited individuals. Cells with identical DNA cooperate to self-assemble large and complex organisms, and even regenerate after damage. Large colonies of tiny ants cooperate to forage over vast unknown areas, move large objects, and achieve as a group what no single ant could ever achieve. What would it take to create (build and program) our own artificial collectives of the scale and complexity that nature achieves? In this talk, I will discuss one of our recent and ongoing endeavors the Kilobot project - which aims to create a 1024 ("kilo") robot swarm testbed for studying collective intelligence. Creating an autonomous robot collective at this scale poses many challenges, e.g. how do we bulk manufacture robust but low-cost robots, how do we move from micromanaging single robots to managing and programming a thousand autonomous entities? At the same time such a swarm allows us to study at scale many collective algorithms, inspired by engineering (coordinate systems), social insects (collective transport), and cells (self-assembly). I will talk about both the design of the Kilobot swarm and several algorithms we have studied using this system. A common theme in all of our work is understanding the global-to-local relationship: how complex and robust collective behavior can be systematically achieved from large numbers of simple agents.
Radhika Nagpal is the Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. She received her PhD degree in Computer Science from MIT, and spent a year as a research fellow at the Systems Biology Department in Harvard Medical School. At Harvard she leads the self-organizing systems research group and her research interests span computer science, robotics, and biology. She has received several awards, including the 2012 Radcliffe Fellowship, the 2010 Borg Early Career Award, an NSF Career Award, and the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship Award.