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
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.
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
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
Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the National Science Foundation (NSF)
Inside NOVA Blog (Adventures in Swarm Robotics)
Article (Kilobots are leaving the nest)
AFRON Challenge Winners (Wired Sep 2012)
Wyss and K-Team
Press Release (Nov 2011)
Slashdot Article (Nov 2011)
Spectrum blog article (June 2011).
Purchase some from K-Team:
K-Team Corp is making Kilobots available for
purchase, starting now!
See the K-Team
Flier and K-Team
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.
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 www.kilobotics.com, 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.
Features of a Kilobot Robot and how thy can be controlled in a group
Capabilities of the Kilobot such as: communication, distance sensing, locomotion, and on-board computation.
Kilobot collective (<30 robots) demonstrating popular collective behaviors such as follow-the-leader and foraging.
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.
(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,
Intl. Conf. on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS), May 2013.
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.
We have many movies showing different Kilobot
behaviors on our Kilobot
Youtube Channel playlist.
(phototaxis, synchronization, ant-inspired foraging, collective transport, etc)