Collective Intelligence, from Nature to Robots

Series/Event Type: 

In nature, groups of thousands of individuals cooperate to create complex structure purely through local interactions -- from cells that form complex organisms, to social insects like termites that build meter-high mounds and army ants that self-assemble into bridges and nests, to the complex and mesmerizing motion of fish schools and bird flocks. What makes these systems so fascinating to scientists and engineers alike, is that even though each individual has limited ability, as a collective they achieve tremendous complexity.

What would it take to create our own artificial collectives of the scale and complexity that nature achieves? In this talk I will discuss four different ongoing projects that use inspiration from biological self-assembly to create robotic systems: The Kilobot Swarm, inspired bycells, the Termes robots, inspired by mound-building termites, the Eciton soft robots inspired by army ants, and the BlueSwarm project inspired by fish schools. There are many challenges for both building and programming robot swarms, and we use these systems to explore decentralized algorithms, embodied intelligence, and methods for synthesizing complex global behavior. Our theme is the same: can we create simple robots that cooperate to achieve collective complexity?

Radhika Nagpal, Harvard University
Bowen Hall
Friday, October 18, 2019 - 12:30pm

Speaker Bio

Dr. Radhika Nagpal is the Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. At Harvard, she leads the Self-organizing Systems Research Group (SSR) and her research interests span computer science, robotics, and biology. Her awards include the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship (2005), NSF Career Award (2007), Borg Early Career Award (2010), Radcliffe Fellowship (2012), and the McDonald Mentoring Award (2015). Nagpal was named by Nature magazine as one of the top ten influential scientists and engineers of the year (Nature 10 award, Dec 2014). Nagpal is also the co-founder of an educational robotics company, ROOT Robotics (acquired by iRobot, 2019) and the author of a popular Scientific American blog article (“The Awesomest 7-year Postdoc”) about changing science culture.