Thursday, August 13, 2009

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.

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