Swarm robotics

Siobhan Duncan is a PhD student at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. She studies swarm robotics and shares her passion widely as part of her mission to encourage others to see robotics as a future career option.

What is ‘swarm robotics’?

Swarm robotics looks to natural swarms, such as bees, ants, termites, and tries to understand how these collective manage to collaborate so that we can program robots to do the same. For example, termites are nature’s best builders, able to create super cities within their mounds without building plans, leaders, or language. These abilities are very interesting to roboticists, we currently don’t have robots that can perform behaviours in this way. Swarm robotics looks to find a way to mimic these with hundreds, thousands, or even millions, of robots collaborating to do things like search and rescue, environmental monitoring, infrastructure inspection, debris clearing, etc...

What made you chose to study and develop swarm robotics?

I have wanted to work with robots for as long as I can remember. In particular, I have always wanted to work on robots that can have real positive impact on the world. Swarm robotics has so many positive applications, such as search and rescue, which I found a massive draw to the discipline. 

Why are you so passionate about robotics as a career option?

I first was interested in robotics from watching science fiction with my dad. I was fascinated with them as a child. As a teenager I found an interest in maths and science, and later on computing, so I knew I’d enjoy a stem subject at university. I was lucky enough to take part in the Careers Scotland Summer Space Camp which used to be run at Edinburgh University where I was exposed to the Lego Minestorms robots and I feel head over heels with building and programming these machines.

As an adult, I enjoy the challenge. Robotics is challenging and requires multidisciplinary cooperation. I enjoy working with different types of engineers and scientists who bring different ways of thinking to the table. Even though it’s hard, it’s so rewarding, when you see the progress you can make with your ideas and hard work, there is no feeling like it.