Computing KS3/4: How robots can work together in a swarm

Paul Beardsley from Disney Research Zurich explains how the 50 Pixelbot robots work together in a swarm to create animations.

The camera mounted above the Pixelbot arena monitors each Pixelbot’s location, and sends this information into a computer.

The computer software then works out where it needs each Pixelbot to move in order to create the desired image, and sends out a wireless signal to each Pixelbot, instructing it where to move.

The Pixelbots perform a collection of animations to demonstrate this, including a dinosaur and a human.

Finally, a volunteer joins Paul Beardsley to scramble a few of the Pixelbots and test their ability to rejoin the image.

The software recognises the removal of the pixels and adjusts for it in the most efficient way, by instructing the remaining Pixelbots to move into the gap created, while the separated Pixelbots are instructed to move into the image from their new location.

This group of Pixelbots demonstrates how robots must work together in a swarm to achieve a common goal, and highlights the importance of adjusting efficiently in response to changes.

This clip is from The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures 2014.

Teacher Notes

Could be used to ask students to consider the practical applications of the technology used in the Pixelbots, for example in disaster recoveries, searches for missing people, security and military.

Students could design an application for managing livestock in farming, eg. Keeping animals safe from predators, moving the animals around in groups.

Curriculum Notes

This topic appears in OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 5 in Scotland.

More from The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures 2014:

Feedback loops
How does a digital camera work?
How LED screens work
The Mars Rover and autonomous navigation
Solving a Rubik's cube by smartphone
What can 3D printing be used for?
Touching virtual objects