Pheromone Robotics

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We describe techniques for coordinating the actions of large numbers of small-scale robots to achieve useful large-scale results in surveillance, reconnaissance, hazard detection, and path finding. We exploit the biologically inspired notion of a “virtual pheromone,” implemented using simple transceivers mounted atop each robot. Unlike the chemical markers used by insect colonies for communication and coordination, our virtual pheromones are symbolic messages tied to the robots themselves rather than to fixed locations in the environment. This enables our robot collective to become a distributed computing mesh embedded within the environment, while simultaneously acting as a physical embodiment of the user interface. This leads to notions of world-embedded computation and world-embedded displays that provide different ways to think about robot colonies and the types of distributed computations that such colonies might perform.

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