Imagine that you have a lot of nearly identical robots and you need a way to control them. Controlling each separately is possible, but it would take a lot of computing power and a big communications bandwidth. The question is, can they be controlled and made to do useful things using a single central signal? For example, what could you achieve if the robots simply all followed the same rule — move towards the light?
Could you make them do useful things by simply changing the position and intensity of the light?
In a paper to be presented next month at IROS 2013, researchers, Aaron Becker and James McLurkin, prove that as long as the robots are all slightly different you can create an algorithm that will move each one to a different target position. You need to see the videos to understand how it might all works.
Despite having some theoretical results on how to control swarms, the research team would like you to help by playing some fun games. Your task is to play sheepdog, or perhaps that should be robot dog, and herd some robots into performing some task or another. As well as being fun, it is also very instructive and in no time at all you start to try out heuristics to see if you can improve your performance. http://www.swarmcontrol.net/
The uses of this technique are many. It would allow nanobots to move atoms and build useful nanomachines, you could use it to sort all the cells in a Petri dish or deliver drugs to just the cancer cells. It might even give us some idea how cells organize themselves to create complex structures.
When you think of the potential of this research there is no doubt that it could be the most important robot research going on at the moment.