Skip to main content

RoboBees - A Convergence of Body, Brain, and Colony


I'm part of a team that was recently awarded a $10M NSF "Expeditions in Computing" grant for a project to develop an autonomous colony of robotic bees. This is a big effort headed up by Prof. Rob Wood at Harvard and includes a team of 11 researchers in Computer Science, engineering, and biology. The project title is RoboBees: A Convergence of Body, Brain, and Colony, and you can check out the preliminary project website here. I'm very excited about this project as it will open up a lot of research directions for programming complex behaviors in a coordinated swarm of tiny aerial robots.

The press release from Harvard describes the project as follows:
A multidisciplinary team of computer scientists, engineers, and biologists at Harvard received a $10 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Expeditions in Computing grant to fund the development of small-scale mobile robotic devices. Inspired by the biology of a bee and the insect’s hive behavior, the researchers aim to push advances in miniature robotics and the design of compact high-energy power sources; spur innovations in ultra-low-power computing and electronic “smart” sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines. [...]
Now, what is interesting is that the release never explicitly mentions the central theme of the project -- that is to build a colony of robotic bees -- nor the title of the project ("RoboBees"). Apparently the PR machine at Harvard got nervous about some aspect of this and, despite the NSF's large investment in our project, decided it was better to tone down the language. Baffling.

Cutting through the PR fog, you can read the full description of the project on our website, as well as the award description from the NSF, which makes it pretty clear what we plan to do.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why I'm leaving Harvard

The word is out that I have decided to resign my tenured faculty job at Harvard to remain at Google. Obviously this will be a big change in my career, and one that I have spent a tremendous amount of time mulling over the last few months.

Rather than let rumors spread about the reasons for my move, I think I should be pretty direct in explaining my thinking here.

I should say first of all that I'm not leaving because of any problems with Harvard. On the contrary, I love Harvard, and will miss it a lot. The computer science faculty are absolutely top-notch, and the students are the best a professor could ever hope to work with. It is a fantastic environment, very supportive, and full of great people. They were crazy enough to give me tenure, and I feel no small pang of guilt for leaving now. I joined Harvard because it offered the opportunity to make a big impact on a great department at an important school, and I have no regrets about my decision to go there eight years ago. But m…

Rewriting a large production system in Go

My team at Google is wrapping up an effort to rewrite a large production system (almost) entirely in Go. I say "almost" because one component of the system -- a library for transcoding between image formats -- works perfectly well in C++, so we decided to leave it as-is. But the rest of the system is 100% Go, not just wrappers to existing modules in C++ or another language. It's been a fun experience and I thought I'd share some lessons learned.

Why rewrite?

The first question we must answer is why we considered a rewrite in the first place. When we started this project, we adopted an existing C++ based system, which had been developed over the course of a couple of years by two of our sister teams at Google. It's a good system and does its job remarkably well. However, it has been used in several different projects with vastly different goals, leading to a nontrivial accretion of cruft. Over time, it became apparent that for us to continue to innovate rapidly wo…

Running a software team at Google

I'm often asked what my job is like at Google since I left academia. I guess going from tenured professor to software engineer sounds like a big step down. Job titles aside, I'm much happier and more productive in my new role than I was in the 8 years at Harvard, though there are actually a lot of similarities between being a professor and running a software team.

I lead a team at Google's Seattle office which is responsible for a range of projects in the mobile web performance area (for more background on my team's work see my earlier blog post on the topic). One of our projects is the recently-announced data compression proxy support in Chrome Mobile. We also work on the PageSpeed suite of technologies, specifically focusing on mobile web optimization, as well as a bunch of other cool stuff that I can't talk about just yet.

My official job title is just "software engineer," which is the most common (and coveted) role at Google. (I say "coveted&quo…