In the Swarmathon competition, students were asked to develop computer code for the small robots, programming them to look for “resources” in the form of barcodes — the small squares on the surface. Teams developed search algorithms for the Swarmies to operate autonomously, communicating and interacting as a collective swarm similar to ants foraging for food. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Up To Code Sudents develop innovative robots in first Swarmathon challenge BY BOB GRANATH
or NASA’s Journey to Mars, researchers at Kennedy Space Center are developing small robots known as “Swarmies” to help find resources once astronauts arrive at the Red Planet. The Swarmies were designed through a collaboration between the University of New Mexico and Kennedy’s Swamp Works facility. In research already taking place at the Florida spaceport, computer scientists are developing “Swarmies” focusing not so much on the hardware, but the software. What makes the small robots noteworthy is the coding each carries in its silicon brain that makes them search for useful resources the same way ants do. In the spaceport’s first annual Swarmathon, students from 12 colleges and universities across the nation were invited to develop software code to operate these innovative robots. The event took
place April 20-21 at the Kennedy visitor complex. The development of this new form of robotics is another example of transformative capabilities and cutting-edge technologies being developed and tested by the agency today. This year’s inaugural Swarmathon was won by a team from Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. For students participating in the Swarmathon, their work is designed to improve their skills in robotics and computer science, as well as integrating hardware and software. Their developments are helping NASA refine technology for future human space exploration. In his welcoming remarks, Kennedy’s associate director, Kelvin Manning, pointed out to the students that their endeavors to develop robotic code is more than an academic exercise. “You will be helping NASA advance our exploration mission,” he said, “One day you may work here too.” Manning encouraged the students to take advantage of opportunities to speak to NASA engineers and professionals.
For more than five decades, Kennedy has set the stage for America's adventure in space. The spaceport has served as the departure gate for e...