The Kilobot Project

A Low Cost Scalable Robot System for Demonstrating Collective Behaviors

In current robotics research there is a vast body of work on algorithms and control methods for groups of decentralized cooperating robots, called a swarm or collective. These algorithms are generally meant to control collectives of hundreds or even thousands of robots; however, for reasons of cost, time, or complexity, they are generally validated in simulation only, or on a group of a few 10s of robots. To address this issue, we designed the Kilobot, a low-cost robot designed to make testing collective algorithms on hundreds or thousands ("kilos") of robots accessible to robotics researchers. Each robot has the basic capabilities required for a swarm robot, but is made with low-cost parts, and is mostly assembled by an automated process. In addition, the system design allows a single user to easily and scalably operate a large Kilobot collective, such as programming, powering on, and charging all robots. systems.

We are now using the Kilobot swarm to investigate algorithms for robust collective behavior, such as collective transport, human-swarm interaction, and shape self-assembly, as well as new theory that links individual robot capabilities to acheivable swarm behaviors. See our publications and movies to learn more about this research.

The Kilobot won first place in the 2012 African Robotics Network $10 Robot Design Challenge. The goal of the AFRON challenge is to develop a low-cost robot for education in developing countries. The Kilobot design is available open-source for non-commercial use, and you can also purchase Kilobots from K-Team Corp. We are also developing new example programs and programming environments for using the Kilobot in research and education. See below for more details.

Publications and Movies
How to make, buy, program your own Kilobot Swarm

Funded by
WYSS Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Inside NOVA Blog (Adventures in Swarm Robotics)
SEAS Article (Kilobots are leaving the nest)
AFRON Challenge Winners (Wired Sep 2012)
Wyss and K-Team Press Release (Nov 2011)
Slashdot Article (Nov 2011)
IEEE Spectrum blog article (June 2011).

Kilobot Youtube Channel

How to make, buy, and program your own Kilobot swarm

Purchase some from K-Team:

K-Team Corp is making Kilobots available for purchase, starting now!
See the K-Team Flier and K-Team homepage.

K-team sells groups of robots, controllers, and charging stations - picture on the right is courtesy of Sabine Hauert, MIT. Several groups are starting to use kilobots, to test different distributed algorithms. The Kilobots have simple capabilities and costs (10 Kilobots ~ 1 E-puck) aimed at enabling swarm and distributed robotics research. Contact K-team to purchase your own swarm!

Build some yourself:

If you would like to build your own Kilobots, all the software and hardware details are available under a Creative Commons attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license. The documents can be found here. The design is fairly simple for any lab that is used to getting electronics made, and this is a great and affordable option if you plan to make a large number of robots (We estimate approximately $20/robot for thousand, upto $50/robot for a hundred). If you decide to make your own robots, feel free to contact Mike Rubenstein to let him know and if you need help.

Programming Kilobots:

Kilobots use a standard microcontroller (Atmel) and its programming environment, and the distribution above contains the bootloader program, libraries, and some sample programs. But we are also now developing a new online programming environment, that hosts compilation environment online and interfaces with dropbox to make the process of developing Kilobot programs more easily portable to different operating systems. We will also be developing new sample programs and labs to go with this environment. If you are interested in being a beta tester for this, contact Alex Cornejo.

What can Kilobots do:

We have several narrated introduction movies to show the capabilities of individual robots, how we program and control them, and some sample collective behaviors. Take a look at these, and at other movies on our kilobot youtube channel, to get an introduction to the Kilobot system.

Video1: Features of a Kilobot Robot and how thy can be controlled in a group
Video2: Capabilities of the Kilobot such as: communication, distance sensing, locomotion, and on-board computation.
Video3: Kilobot collective (<30 robots) demonstrating popular collective behaviors such as follow-the-leader and foraging.

Publications and Movies

Kilobot: A Low Cost Scalable Robot System for Collective Behaviors
Michael Rubenstein, Christian Ahler, Radhika Nagpal
IEEE Intl. Conf on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2012.
(pdf) and (longer but older tech report, 2011)

Collective Transport of Complex Objects by Simple Robots: Theory and Experiments
Mike Rubenstein, Adrian Cabrera, Justin Werfel, Golnaz Habibi, James McLurkin, Radhika Nagpal
Intl. Conf. on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS), May 2013. (pdf)

Massive Uniform Manipulation:
Controlling Large Populations of Simple Robots With a Common Input Signal

Aaron Becker, Golnaz Habibi, Justin Werfel, Michael Rubenstein, James McLurkin
IEEE/RSJ Intl. Conf. on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), Nov 2013. (pdf)

We have many movies showing different Kilobot behaviors on our Kilobot Youtube Channel playlist.
(phototaxis, synchronization, ant-inspired foraging, collective transport, etc)