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Droplets – Swarm Robotics

CorrellLab in Boulder, CO
Community Funded
This project ended on
June 16, 2014
Donation: Project receives all funds.
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From CorrellLab: "A scalable research and educational platform for swarm robotics"

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We have developed a novel robotic platform to study swarming behavior — Droplets that form a liquid that thinks


Our goal is to test swarming algorithms on a large scale, bring Droplets into a new college course, use Droplets to teach K-12 science, and provide Droplets for artistic use.


A Droplet is a small mobile robot that is based on 10 years experience in swarm robotics. The Droplets are the only platform that,

  • allow indefinitely long experiments by being powered from the floor,
  • move and communicate omni-directionally,
  • and can measure the distance and orientation of neighboring robots, allowing for complex pattern formation and self-assembly experiments.


Why Swarming?
Swarming is ubiquitous in nature. You can observe it in termites, slime mold, and ants, but if you think about it, everything is a swarm. Atoms as old as the universe interact with each other following the most basic laws of physics to form molecules, cells, brains and people.


Our lab wants to understand and teach these mechanisms, a.k.a swarm intelligence, using the Droplets. A swarm of Droplets will allow us to research important applications for swarm robotics such as,

  • self-assembly,
  • distributed learning,
  • cell-differentiation and
  • the emergence of life-like behavior at an unprecedented scale!


In addition to performing research in swarming algorithms we plan the following activities.
    • Teach “Swarm Intelligence” as a college level class: The Droplet Platform allows us to teaches classes with hands on activities, with each student working own their own small swarm throughout the semester to develop a large scale experiment involving the entire swarm.
    • Teach K-12: We are working with the St. Vrain School district’s innovation center and other schools to develop teaching modules that range from organic chemistry (every Droplet acts as an atom) to modeling the immune system and, of course, robotics!


  • Art Installations: We are working with Michael Theodore and other artists to understand how matter can become alive. A swarm of Droplets is a totally new tool for artistic expression and we want to work with artists like Marina Zurkow and Stelarc who push the boundaries of our understanding of how we, our bodies, nature and technology interact.


Your Support
Your donations will help us to set off setup cost and allow us to reach cheaper costs per robot through volume discounts. You can also suport this project by supporting educational or artist packages. A detailed list of our rewards is available under the “market” tab of this project.
A breakdown of our preliminary cost estimate is listed below. As you can see, the volume discounts really kick in when we start mass-production of Droplets.
Quantity 100 500 1000
Shell Mold $50.00 $10.00 $6.00
Shells $1.00 $0.80 $0.50
PCB Manufacture $5.00 $1.70 $1.50
Parts ATMEL Mic. $5.00 $3.00 $2.50
Parts – Supercap $7.00 $4.00 $3.50
Parts – Other $18.00 $13.00 $10.00
Assembly $5.00 $4.00 $3.00
CU Facilities Overhead $9.00 $3.50 $3.00
Cost per Droplet  $100.00    $40.00    $30.00


Our Team
Nikolaus Correll (Asst. Professor)
PhD in Computer Science EPFL
2007 MS in Electrical Engineering ETH
2009 Asst. Professor in Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering (by courtesy), Aerospace Engineering Sciences (by courtesy)
Affiliate, Material Science Engineering program
Anshul Kanakia (Ph.D. Candidate)
BS in Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010

Research interests: Design and Application of Swarm Robot Algorithms
John Klingner (Ph.D. Student)
BA in Computer Science, Cornell College, 2012
BA in Physics, Cornell College, 2012
BA in Mathematics, Cornell College, 2012
Update #2
May 28, 2014
We are off to Hong-Kong to present the Droplets at ICRA

Nicholas Farrow, John Klingner, Dana Hughes and Nikolaus Correll will travel to Hong Kong to present our first paper on the Droplets hardware, a description of the range and bearing system. Getting such a small platform not only to accurately measure the range to its neighbors, but also their orientation, and even the heading of each neighboring robot is a tough challenge and we have made the following innovations:

Each Droplet records each other Droplet’s 6 emitters with 6 sensors, leading to a total of 36 possible combinations. We came up with an elegant method to calculate range, bearing and the heading of the other robot from this data quickly and accurately. This is not only more accurate than existing approaches that use only two sensor pairs to measure another emitter, but allows us to calculate heading without additional communication. 
We are looking forward to using this system to test large-scale self-assembly experiments in which the robots can accurately align with each other. This is the full paper, which we post online soon:

N. Farrow, J. Klingner, D. Reishus, N. Correll (2014)Miniature Six-channel Range and Bearing System: Algorithm, Analysis and Experimental Validation In: IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Hong Kong. 
Open Comments
Update #1
May 23, 2014
First Droplet named!

We have named our first Droplet after one of our donor’s granddaughters. We are currently experimenting with 3D printing part of the robot (the lower shell) in order to bring overall costs down and have purchased a Makerbot Replicator 2x. While the Makerbot allows us to print in two colors (which looks great), it is not clear it is precise enough for creating the intricate inner structures. 

We would be more than happy to name and emboss 167 Droplets! That is all it takes to make a precise injection mold that is good for tens of thousands of Droplets. Instead of 3D printing, we will then name the Droplets by laser engraving using our laser cutter. 
Want your logo or signature embossed on all the shells that will be ever made using the mold? Consider gifting the mold itself!
Thanks so much for all your support thus far,
The Droplet Team
Nikolaus, Anshul and John
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