Notre Dame professor develops swarm robots and hopes to inspire other creators

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame Professor Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin has spent fifteen years working in robotics, though despite the mechanical inclination, she takes much of her inspiration from nature- like how centipedes travel and how ants work together to complete tasks, using their legs. 

But robots with legs have their own unique challenges. 

According to Prof. Ozkan-Aydin “As a product, there are lots of wheeled robots, and other stuff. But legged robots are not commercially available.”

So, she opted to create her own, using convenient, modern technologies like 3-D printing and low-cost materials to create her own "swarm robots."

“The idea here is to use the legged robots like a swarm.”

These four-legged robots, which only cost about $200 in raw materials to produce, are able to navigate uneven terrain and work together to complete tasks. Ozkan-Aydin suggests they could be used in a wide variety of applications-- from search and rescue operations to gathering data for farmers to plant their crops. 

She hopes that these robots can also be used as a learning tool. 

“Students can learn how to control the systems using a low-cost platform like that,” she said. 

But one major takeaway Ozkan-Aydin has on the project is she hopes that by developing these swarm robots on her own, she can inspire another generation of engineers in creating their own devices. 

“Robotics is growing, and now the age of the students is also decreasing. With availability of 3-D printers and materials, it’s a very growing area," she said. 

And she is thankful for the opportunity and support given by the University of Notre Dame. 

“We have a growing robotics group here," she said "So people are very supportive of the research on the robots, and our Dean is also interested in this kind of research.”

And she suggests that if anyone is looking for design inspiration: look to the natural world that surrounds them:

“I suggest to people that if they want to work on robotics, to first look at biology, to see if they can’t find some useful ideas.”


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