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Swarm Intelligence and Evolutionary Algorithms

The design of adaptive systems which are able to operate autonomously and reliably in dynamic environments, is one of the big challenges in robotics. The methods of swarm robotics help to reduce the complexity of such systems and methods of evolutionary robotics help to generate robot controllers automatically. In our project “flora robotica”, we apply these methods to investigate novel approaches in combining robots and natural plants.

Swarm Intelligence

Swarm Intelligence is the discipline that deals with natural and artificial systems composed of many individuals that coordinate using decentralised control and self-organization. In particular, the discipline focuses on the collective behaviours that result from the local interactions of the individuals with each other and with their environment. Examples of systems studied by swarm intelligence are multi-robot systems and certain computer programs that are written to tackle optimisation and data analysis problems. The objective of our approach is to define individual behaviours based on simple algorithms but still generate complex system behaviours. In this way we hope to be able to govern the increasing complexity of engineered system also in the future.

flora robotica: braiding robot

Evolutionary Algorithms

Evolutionary Algorithms belong to the field of meta-heuristic optimisation and they are based on the Darwinian principle of selection and reproduction of the well adapted organism. We apply this method in software engineering for the automatic synthesis of requirements specifications and in robotics to generate controllers for autonomous robots automatically. The latter approach considers robots as autonomous, artificial organisms that develop their own skills without human action and closely interacting with their environment. The objective is to get rid of both the manual work of describing requirements specifications and the manual programming work of robot controllers.

flora robotica

The past year in our EU-funded project was primarily a time of exploiting our first engineering results. We were able to use our hardware, which already works reliably, to conduct weeks-long experiments. We were able to showcase the effectivity of the project’s key idea, that is, influencing the directional growth of natural plants as desired by a distributed robot system. A user can define a desired growth pattern, which is then autonomously grown by our robotic nodes, that steer the plants using light as a stimulus. In another sub-project, a machine has been developed that automatically produces complex braided structures that serve as scaffolds for the plants. These structures can also be adapted to environmental conditions and the plant growth.

flora robotica: Growing a plant pattern

Supported by:

  • DFG Collaborative Research Centre 901 “On-The-Fly Computing”, subproject B1; EU Horizon 2020 FET project flora robotica