Swarm robotics focuses on systems of large numbers of robots, independently controlled, limited in capabilities, with the goal of reliably achieving collective tasks despite individually unreliable agents. These systems are inspired by groups of animals in nature, such as flocking birds, schooling fish, and colonies of social insects. The goal of this workshop is to bring together researchers in both the robotics and biology communities with a shared interest in swarm systems. The day will feature keynote presentations by eminent experts on recent research; directed small-group discussions with both senior and junior researchers; and an open discussion session with posters and demonstrations, the latter featuring hardware, simulations, and live insects. Through these presentations and opportunities for conversation, we hope to facilitate cross-pollination between the two communities. Two overarching goals are to catalyze new inspirations for artificial systems based on studies of natural ones, and to identify principles from engineered swarms that can help to explain the operation of animal collectives.


This full-day workshop on swarms in robotics and nature was held at ICRA 2018, Brisbane, Australia, on Friday, May 25, 2018.



  • Swarm robotics and multi-robot systems

  • Animal collectives (social insects, schooling fish, flocking birds, herding mammals, etc.)

  • Self-* (self-organization, self-assembly, self-repair, etc.)

  • Modular reconfigurable systems

  • Programmable matter, smart materials, amorphous computing

  • Social systems and mixed animal-robot societies

  • Human-swarm interaction

  • Distributed evolutionary and collaborative systems



  • 9:00: Introduction
  • 9:05: Alyssa Pierson, MIT: Controlling Non-Cooperative Herds with Robotic Herders
  • 9:40: Mark Yim, University of Pennsylvania: Shapeshifting with Modular Robots
  • 10:15: Lightning talks by poster presenters (I)
  • 10:30: Break
  • 11:00: Melinda Malley, Harvard: Bio-Inspired Self-Assembly of Robot Collectives
  • 11:25: Chris Reid, Macquarie University: How ants are like Voltron: distributed self-assembly of structures in army ants and weaver ants
  • 12:00: Melanie Moses, University of New Mexico: Scalable cooperation in Life and Robots
  • 12:35: Lunch
  • 13:30: Joey Durham, Amazon Robotics: Amazon’s Robotic Warehouses as a Many Robot System
  • 14:05: Mandyam Srinivasan, University of Queensland: Some facets of collective behaviour in bees and birds
  • 14:40: Lightning talks by poster presenters (II)
  • 15:00: Break
  • 15:30: Poster and demonstration exhibition
  • 16:45: Guided discussion session in small groups
  • 17:30: Full group discussion and closing


Extended Abstracts / Posters



  • Modular field robot for inspection of dilapidated buildings: Troy Cordie, Tirthankar Bandyopadhyay, Jonathan Roberts, Matthew Dunbabin, Kelly Greenop, Ross Dungavell, Ryan Steindl
  • Live weaver ant colony: Chris Reid
  • Arboreal nest construction in the weaving-ant Oecophylla: Simon K. A. Robson, Tom Bochynek, J. L. Deneubourg, Lochlan Jones
  • FireAnt modular robot: Petras Swissler, Michael Rubenstein



  • Justin Werfel, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University
  • Kirstin Petersen, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cornell University
  • Mike Rubenstein, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University