“Their movements are modeled on those of Odontomachus ants. These insects normally crawl, but to escape a predator, they snap their powerful jaws together to jump from leaf to leaf", explains Zhenishbek Zhakypov, the first author.
Despite having the same “anatomy”, each robot is assigned a specific role depending on the situation. ‘Explorers’ detect physical obstacles in their path, such as objects, valleys and mountains. After detecting an obstacle, they inform the rest of the group. Then, the “leader” gives the instructions. The ‘workers’, meanwhile, pool their strength to move objects. “Each Tribot, just like Odontomachus ants, can have different roles. However, they can also take on new roles instantaneously when faced with a new mission or an unknown environment, or even when other members get lost. This goes beyond what the real ants can do” notes Paik.
In practical situations, such as in an emergency search mission, Tribots could be deployed en masse. And thanks to their multi-locomotive and multi-agent communication capabilities, they could locate a target quickly over a large surface without relying on GPS or visual feedback.
“Since they can be manufactured and deployed in large numbers, having some ‘casualties’ would not affect the success of the mission,” explains Paik. “With their unique collective intelligence, our tiny robots are better equipped to adapt to unknown environments. Therefore, for certain missions, they would outperform larger, more powerful robots.” The development of robots for search-and-rescue applications and the study of collective robotics are key research areas within the NCCR Robotics consortium, of which Jamie Paik’s lab is part.
The Swiss National Center of Competence in Robotics (NCCR) – www.nccr-robotics.ch