Tag Archives: Swarm Robotics

Distributing a neural network among the robots of a swarm

Michael Otte, An emergent group mind across a swarm of robots: Collective cognition and distributed sensing via a shared wireless neural network, The International Journal of Robotics Research, DOI: 10.1177/0278364918779704.

We pose the “trained-at-runtime heterogeneous swarm response problem,” in which a swarm of robots must do the following three things: (1) Learn to differentiate between multiple classes of environmental feature patterns (where the feature patterns are distributively sensed across all robots in the swarm). (2) Perform the particular collective behavior that is the appropriate response to the feature pattern that the swarm recognizes in the environment at runtime (where a collective behavior is defined by a mapping of robot actions to robots). (3) The data required for both (1) and (2) is uploaded to the swarm after it has been deployed, i.e., also at runtime (the data required for (1) is the specific environmental feature patterns that the swarm should learn to differentiate between, and the data required for (2) is the mapping from feature classes to swarm behaviors). To solve this problem, we propose a new form of emergent distributed neural network that we call an “artificial group mind.” The group mind transforms a robotic swarm into a single meta-computer that can be programmed at runtime. In particular, the swarm-spanning artificial neural network emerges as each robot maintains a slice of neurons and forms wireless neural connections between its neurons and those on nearby robots. The nearby robots are discovered at runtime. Experiments on real swarms containing up to 316 robots demonstrate that the group mind enables collective decision-making based on distributed sensor data, and solves the trained-at-runtime heterogeneous swarm response problem. The group mind is a new tool that can be used to create more complex emergent swarm behaviors. The group mind also enables swarm behaviors to be a function of global patterns observed across the environment—where the patterns are orders of magnitude larger than the robots themselves.