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The Swarm-Organ project consolidates
Just a few months after kick-off, the swarm of researchers involved in this FP7-funded project is certainly self-organizing into a unified and powerful research organ. Its goal is to develop a theoretical framework for the distributed adaptive control of relatively simple agents, based on gene regulatory networks. Reaching this degree of integration relatively early in the project has been due to the enthusiastic drive of the consortium members, allowing the following objectives to be achieved:
- Identify the participating agents: Several researchers (PhD students and postdocs) have joined the group, each of whom brought essential expertise and fresh ideas. Now the swarm consists of 15 (not-so-simple) agents with strong backgrounds in diverse disciplines, including computational science, robotics, developmental biology, engineering, and informatics.
- Establish reliable communication protocols: Communication paths have been established, both external (like this website) and internal (intranet and wiki, mailing lists, and Git resource for collaborative software development). Still, the most successful and important interactions were achieved through the frequent project meetings that have already taken place: almost all members of the project have met in person at four meetings, each hosted by one of the partner institutions.
- Design and implement the first tasks: In the first meeting (June 2013), held in Barcelona and hosted by James Sharpe (Centre for Genomic Regulation, CRG), the aims and conceptual basis for the project were discussed and settled. This opening meeting was immediately followed by the first FoCAS Inter-Project meeting, which presented the project members with a great opportunity to network with several experts in Collective Adaptive Systems and to identify potential synergies between projects. In the second meeting (August 2013), held in Guilford and hosted by Yaochu Jin (University of Surrey), Swarm-Organ researchers addressed the initial research challenge, i.e. choosing the robotic platform and simulator. In the following meeting held in Amsterdam and hosted by Jaap Kaandorp (University of Amsterdam, October 2013), the preliminary results obtained with the agreed-upon simulator and basic constraints were discussed, and the main pitfalls analysed in detail. Finally, in the fourth meeting (November 2013), held in Norwich and hosted by Verônica Grieneisen (John Innes Centre), a lot of new results were shared, important decisions regarding the election of the standard model to be used in the rest of the project were taken, and, most excitingly, the first live tests with real robots were performed.
This new research team/swarm/organ is now fully functional; in fact, it has already reached the first established milestone for the project ahead of time. The expectation for the outcomes of the project are high with regards to elucidating the underlying rules that define the collective behaviour of single agents, which may apply both to biological systems (i.e. morphogenesis) and to the next generation of technologies in robotics and computation. We should keep an eye on the endeavours of this swarm…
This article has been published in the FoCAS Newsletter issue 2.