As tiny robots become individually more sophisticated, and larger robots easier to mass produce, a breakdown of conventional disciplinary silos is enabling swarm engineering to be adopted across scales and applications, from nanomedicine to treat cancer, to cm-sized robots for large-scale environmental monitoring or intralogistics. This convergence of capabilities is facilitating the transfer of lessons learned from one scale to the other. Cm-sized robots that work in the 1000s may operate in a way similar to reaction-diffusion systems at the nanoscale, while sophisticated microrobots may have individual capabilities that allow them to achieve swarm behaviour reminiscent of larger robots with memory, computation, and communication. Although the physics of these systems are fundamentally different, much of their emergent swarm behaviours can be abstracted to their ability to move and react to their local environment. This presents an opportunity to build a unified framework for the engineering of swarms across scales that makes use of machine learning to automatically discover suitable agent designs and behaviours, digital twins to seamlessly move between the digital and physical world, and user studies to explore how to make swarms safe and trustworthy. Such a framework would push the envelope of swarm capabilities, towards making swarms for people.
Sabine Hauert is Associate Professor (Reader) of Swarm Engineering at the University of Bristol and Bristol Robotics Laboratory. Before joining UoB, she was a Human Frontier Science Program Cross-Disciplinary Fellow at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, and PhD student at EPFL. Her expertise is in engineering swarms across scales, from nanoparticles for cancer treatment, to robots for logistics. Central to her work is the use of bioinspiration and machine learning to engineer desired swarm behaviours. In the past 5 years her work has been published in Science Robotics, Science Advances, Trends in Biotechnology, Nano Today, Advanced Intelligent Systems, Frontiers in Robotics and AI, and RA-L/ICRA/IROS. She leads a team of 15 PhD students and postdocs, and receives funding from EU H2020 , Cancer Research UK, HFSP, and EPSRC. She is also Co-founder of AIhub.org, and Robohub.org, non-profits dedicated to connecting the robotics and AI communities to the world. The websites receive over one million pageviews per year, and have 30k followers on social media. As an expert in science communication with 10 years of experience, Sabine is often invited to discuss the future of robotics and AI, including in the journals Science and Nature, and at the Royal Society. Her work has been featured in mainstream media including BBC, CNN, The Guardian, The Economist, TEDx, WIRED, and New Scientist.