Using a tablet and a red beam of light, researchers at Georgia Tech have created a system that controls a fleet of robots with the swipe of a finger. A person taps the tablet to control where the beam of light appears on a floor. The swarm robots then roll toward the illumination, constantly communicating with each other and deciding how to evenly cover the lit area. When the person swipes the tablet to drag the light across the floor, the robots follow. If the operator puts two fingers in different locations on the tablet, the machines will split into teams and repeat the process.
An operator could send a large fleet of machines into a specific area of a tsunami-ravaged region to search for survivors, dividing themselves into equal sections. If some machines were suddenly needed in a new area, a single person could quickly redeploy them. The system allows robots to “change their minds,” rather than just performing the single job they’re programmed to do.
Farmers could send machines into their fields to inspect crops, and workers on manufacturing floors could direct robots to one side of the warehouse to collect items, then quickly direct them to another area if the need changes.