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Underwater Robots with Collective Cognition

These underwater robots communicate using LEDs. (Photo credit: COCORO.)
These underwater robots communicate using LEDs. (Photo credit: COCORO.)

Underwater, autonomous robot swarms developed by researchers in the EU act like schools of fish, exchanging information about their environment as they explore. The robots made for the project, called COCORO, can even learn from their experiences. The team produced a series of videos outlining their experimental results.

In one experiment, twenty robots in a tank of water counted the number of robots in the swarm as they came in contact with one another. Information was relayed between the bots using LEDs. In another experiment, two teams of robots had to find debris from a sunken airplane. One group of robots searched just below the surface while another searched at the bottom of the pool.

Magnets were placed around the airplane to mimic a local electro-magnetic signal. The robots used their built-in compasses to locate the target. One robot discovered the target and landed on it, before using its LED to signal to other robots from the underwater team to also gather on the target.

Field trials were conducted in Livorno Harbour, Italy, where the robots met with waves, currents and corrosive salt water. Despite the conditions, the robots were able to cluster around a base station, go on patrols, and return to base.

‘We didn’t invent all of this ourselves,’ says Dr. Thomas Schmickl, coordinator of the project and Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Graz in Austria. Schmickl says COCORO scientists modeled collective cognition in nature. Observing how honeybees cluster, for example, helped them to develop the BEECLUST algorithm that they used to aggregate robots at a specific location.

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