The Kilobot, a little robot that can coordinate with other Kilobots to perform simple tasks, is now available for purchase by anyone, from curious computer programmers to evil geniuses.
Brace yourself for the coming robot invasion. Scientists at Harvard University have developed the Kilobot—a quarter-sized robot with little toothpick-like legs that can swarm with its fellow Kilobots and act as a unit. This isn’t something that will come down the line in a decade; the robots are already on sale. You can buy them online now for all your robot swarm needs.
The following video is an introduction to Kilobot explaining the inerds of Kilobot and what makes it tick:
At $14 a pop (in construction costs), the Kilobots are actually cheap enough to create a swarm, if you’re so inclined. Unlike other robot swarm prototypes, they can be programmed en masse with an infrared controller and charged simply by moving in between a pair of conductive surfaces.
The following video shows a Kilobot collective of up to 29 robot demonstrating some popular collective behaviors such as follow-the-leader and foraging.
But these swarms won’t be programmed to attack us. The bots are designed to make it easy for researchers to test collective algorithms on hundreds or even thousands of robots—something that was virtually impossible before the ultra-cheap Kilobot came along.
Michael Mitzenmacher, Area Dean for Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, explained in a statement.
"The Kilobot will provide researchers with an important new tool for understanding how to design and build large, distributed, functional systems."
So far, scientists have figured out how to program the Kilobots to "forage," synchronize, and get in formation. Eventually, similarly controlled bots could move through disaster situations to find survivors (like these other disaster bots), create support structures in collapsed buildings, and even help the dwindling bee population pollinate crops.
K-Team Mobile Robotics is producing and distributing the Kilobot, which they bill as
"A low-cost, easy-to-use robotic system for advancing development of 'swarms’ of robots that can be programmed to perform useful functions by coordinating interactions among many individuals."
That, or a low-cost, easy-to-use way to learn the basics of constructing evil robot swarms.
COMMENTARY: In current robotics research there is a vast body of work on algorithms and control methods for groups of decentralized cooperating robots, called a swarm or collective. These algorithms are generally meant to control collectives of hundreds or even thousands of robots; however, for reasons of cost, time, or complexity, they are generally validated in simulation only, or on a group of a few 10s of robots.
To address this issue, Harvard University researchers Michael Rubenstein, Nicholas Hoff and Radhika Nagpal present Kilobot, a low-cost robot designed to make testing collective algorithms on hundreds or thousands of robots accessible to robotics researchers. To enable the possibility of large Kilobot collectives where the number of robots is an order of magnitude larger than the largest that exist today, each robot is made with only $14 worth of parts and takes 5 minutes to assemble.
Kilobot is a low-cost, easy-to-use robotic system for advancing development of “swarms” of robots that can be programmed to perform useful functions by coordinating interactions among many individuals. These swarms are inspired by social insects, such as ant colonies, that can efficiently search for and find food sources in large complex environments, collectively transport large objects, and coordinate the building of nests and bridges in such environments.
Following this inspiration from nature, robot swarms might one day tunnel through rubble to find survivors, monitor the environment and remove contaminants, assist dwindling bee populations in pollinating crops, and self-assemble to form support structures in collapsed buildings. The Kilobot is designed to provide scientists with a physical testbed for advancing the understanding of collective behavior and realizing its potential to deliver solutions for a wide range of challenges.
- Low cost
- Small, only 33mm of diameter
- Fine motor controlling (255 differents power levels)
- The Kilobot can communicate with neighbors up to 7 cm.
- Neighbor-to-neighbor distance sensing
- Ambient light sensing
- RGB led
- Rechargable and amovible battery
- Easy to manipulate, with the Kilobot controller you can program and control hundreds of Kilobot at one time.
The Kilobot Charger (below) can charge up to 10 kilobots simultaneously when you place each Kilobot between the contacts of the charger.
The Kilobot controller board with the controller software (see next section) can manage a large amount of robots at one time.
It can communicate with Kilobots below using infrared light allowing a user to:
- Send a new program to all Kilobots at once.
- Control the Kilobots such as pausing and powering on/off
This action can be done for every Kilobot in an one-meter diameter area below the controller.
The Kilobot controller can program an individual Kilobot using the built-in ISP programmer. It can also connect to an individual Kilobot's serial output header so it can be displayed on a windows computer.
The Kilobot Controller software (picture below) is available for controlling the controller board, sending program files to the robots and controlling them.
The open source development software WinAVR combinated with AvrStudio from Amtel gives a C programming enviromnent. An API with basic functions such as motor speed, led control, distance measurement,... is available and some examples are provided.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer and electronically inclined below are the Kilobot specifications:
I pulled the following prices from RoadNarrows Robotics, a U.S. distributor of Kilobots located in Loveland, CO.:
- Kilobot 10-Pack - Includes 10 fully-assembled Kilobots - $1,375 SRP, Special price $1,237.50
- Kilobot Charger - Can charge up to 10 Kilobots simultaneously - $226 SRP, Special price $203.40
- Kilobot Controller - Used to control the Kilobots and to download a new program to all Kilobots simultaneously - $552.60 SRP, Special Price $552.60
NOTE: The Special Prices are 10% off the SRP if you place your pre-order before December 14, 2011 only.
I am in the process of obtaining additional information about the Kilobot software and other specific details about the Kilobots. As soon as I have this information will update this post.
Courtesy of an article dated November 22, 2011 appearing in Fast Company Design