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James McLurkin, Robotic Ants Inventor
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Bees on honeycomb


Bees on honeycomb



More Photography:


Line of ants crossing pavement
Line of ants crossing pavement


Bee on a flower
Bee on a flower


Mouse on a wedge of cheese
Mouse on a wedge of cheese


Swarm of ladybugs
Swarm of ladybugs


Fruit bat hanging from a branch
Fruit bat hanging from a branch


Cockroach
Cockroach


Crab in a burlap bag
Crab in a burlap bag









How Has McLurkin Continued to Use Biological Principles in His Engineering Work?

McLurkin took a job on the “Swarm” project at IS Robotics. The Swarm team is developing autonomous robots that can work together based on the behavior of bees--a natural extension of McLurkin’s ant research.

When a bee colony reaches a certain size it splits up and a group of scouts goes out to find a new home. The decision about where to move is made by the group. So how do they communicate? How do they come to a consensus? These types of questions about biological behaviors are key to developing robots that can effectively communicate to perform group tasks.

“My ultimate goal is to get robots to do intelligent tasks. I want to figure out how to write programs for distributed robots, how to write at a high level that makes sense at the group level but can also work at the individual level.”

“We engineers can build anything we want, but we can’t make it that intelligent. Biologists have these existing systems that they can observe and study, but they’re too complicated to fully understand. But a biologist could give me algorithms that he or she thinks describe behaviors that he or she sees. I can program those into my robots, and we can compare the natural and the simulated systems.”

Many other inventors are also studying nature in their quest to develop different types of robots. Animals serving as robot inspirations include mice, ladybugs, bats, cockroaches, and crabs.

Next: What Does McLurkin Want His Robots To Do?





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