Clean Swarm

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

There’s been an increasing density of news from the robotics front in the tech media over the last year, it’s even been spilling over into mainstream news. Much of the interest is, of course, in humanising of robotics. The latest two-legged walking robot, the cutest robot, etc. The more interesting news is in areas like unmanned exploratory robotics (those amazing Mars Rovers but more autonomous), and context-aware machinery. Generally, it looks like we’re moving towards far more capable robotics.

Beyond all the cuteness, humanness, industrial efficiency, and extreme exploration there’s something I really want out of robotics: a cleaner.

It seems a less horrendous problem than making a machine like a human, but there are probably difficulties I’ve not imagined. I’ve been thinking about swam robotics a lot in recent times, though not many stories report on it. I’d have thought that swarms would be more robust and flexible in many situations, especially exploration. You could have a generic chassis plus some specialisation and you’d have redundancy. I guess the problems are in connectivity and co-ordination, and energy density. So maybe we’re waiting for advances in power and mesh-networking technologies to make this sort of thing feasible. Another approach would be a “queen bee” that mothers a swam which are the queen’s eyes, ears, hands, etc. Maybe this could mitigate the power and control problems by adding some centralisation? I guess if it comes to exploration there’s also the chance a shark might eat your swarm-bots! 🙂

Aaaanyway… cleaning swarms? I’m terrible when it comes to cleaning, and only slightly better than Kat :-p so our place can generally get pretty chaotic. I’m often heard to exclaim, much exasperated, about my inability to keep the kitchen in a state that doesn’t resemble a pig sty. (Yet I cook in there, to some extent, almost every day — and am yet to have given either of us a case of food poisoning.) Now chaos I don’t actually mind, it’s the dirt and grime that breeds within the chaos that gets my goat. My thought is that you could have a small swam of ‘bots that have simple cleaning functions. They don’t do anything pointlessly complex, like stack stuff in the dish-washer, rather, they clean everything in-place. Dishes, utensils, surfaces, everything.

They have little brushes and mops and scuttle around washing dirt off everything. Biological recyclables go in one bucket and everything else in another (that might be a hard one to implement). There’ll be a dump-station where they empty their little rubbish accumulations. A central command computer, leaving the ‘bots themselves requiring minimal intelligence of their own. And a maintenance station where they can charge up (power, cleaner), self-clean, and change any consumable parts when required. They’re only active when there is no non-‘bot activity in the room, if a human enters while they’re active they scuttle to the corners and stop, so long as they can’t get in the way (maybe ‘bot-holes?), otherwise they just stop (and work themselves out if manually relocated).

Yeah, there’s a lot of difficulties. How hard to scrub? What to scrub? What is mess and what is something left on the bench for later? What about if you’re interrupted by a phone-call in the middle of preparing dinner and the ‘bots clean away your “mess”?

It’d be a great area to work in. One of the many things that makes me wish I was at, or able to go back to, Uni.