The research of swarm robotics is to study the design of robots, their physical body and their controlling behaviours. It is inspired but not limited by the emergent behaviour observed in social insects, called swarm intelligence. Relatively simple individual rules can produce a large set of complex swarm behaviours. A key-component is the communication between the members of the group that build a system of constant feedback. The swarm behaviour involves constant change of individuals in cooperation with others, as well as the behaviour of the whole group.
Unlike distributed robotic systems in general, swarm robotics emphasizes a large number of robots, and promotes scalability, for instance by using only local communication. That local communication for example can be achieved by wireless transmission systems, like radio frequency or infrared.
Miniaturization and cost are key factors in swarm robotics. These are the constraints in building large groups of robots; therefore the simplicity of the individual team member should be emphasized. This should motivate a swarm-intelligent approach to achieve meaningful behavior at swarm-level, instead of the individual level.
Much research has been directed at this goal of simplicity at the individual robot level. Being able to use actual hardware in research of Swarm Robotics rather than simulations allows researchers to encounter and resolve many more issues and broaden the scope of Swarm Research. Thus, development of simple robots for Swarm intelligence research is a very important aspect of the field. The goals include keeping the cost of individual robots low to allow scalability, making each member of the swarm less demanding of resources and more power/energy efficient.
One such swarm system is the LIBOT Robotic System that involves a low cost robot built for outdoor swarm robotics. The robots are also made with provisions for indoor use via Wi-Fi, since the GPS sensors provide poor communication inside buildings. Another such attempt is the micro robot (Colias), built in the Computer Intelligence Lab at the University of Lincoln, UK. This micro robot is built on a 4 cm circular chassis and is low-cost and open platform for use in a variety of Swarm Robotics applications.
Potential applications for swarm robotics are many. They include tasks that demand miniaturization (nanorobotics, microbotics), like distributed sensing tasks in micromachinery or the human body. One of the most promising uses of swarm robotics is in disaster rescue missions. Swarms of robots of different sizes could be sent to places rescue workers can't reach safely, to detect the presence of life via infra-red sensors. On the other hand, swarm robotics can be suited to tasks that demand cheap designs, for instance mining or agricultural foraging tasks. Also some artists use swarm robotic techniques to realize new forms of interactive art.