Swarm robotics is a new approach to the coordination of multirobot systems which consist of large numbers of relatively simple physical robots. The goal of this approach is to study the design of robots (both their physical body and their controlling behaviors) such that a desired collective behavior emerges from the inter-robot interactions and the interactions of the robots with the environment, inspired but not limited by the emergent behavior observed in social insects, called swarm intelligence. It has been discovered that a set of relatively primitive individual behaviors enhanced with communication will produce a large set of complex swarm behaviors.
Unlike distributed robotic systems in general, swarm robotics emphasizes a large number of robots, and promotes scalability, for instance, by using only local communication. Local communication is usually achieved by wireless transmission systems, using radio frequency or infrared communication.
Potential application for swarm robotics include tasks that demand for extreme miniaturization (nanorobotics, microbotics), on the one hand, as for instance distributed sensing tasks in micromachinery or the human body. On the other hand, swarm robotics is suited to tasks that demand for extremely cheap designs, for instance a mining task, or an agricultural foraging task. Artists are using swarm robotic techniques to realize new forms of interactive art installation.
Both miniaturization and cost are hard constraints that emphasize simplicity of the individual team member, and thus motivate a swarm-intelligent approach to achieve meaningful behavior on swarm-level.
Further research is needed to find methodologies that allow for designing, and reliably predicting, swarm behavior, given only features of the individual swarm members. Here, video tracking is an essential tool for systematically studying swarm-behavior, even though other tracking methods are available. Recently Bristol robotics laboratory has developed an ultrasonic position tracking system for swarm research purposes.