SWARM is a kinetic art work consisting of multiple semi-autonomous spherical robots (“Orbs”) that roll under their own power. Each has a spherical shell 30 inches in diameter: roughly waist high to an adult. Orb shells were computer-designed and cut from a flat plate of aluminum, then welded together to form an intricate sphere. Inside each Orb are batteries, motors to control speed and direction, as well as an audio system and color LED illumination, all under the command of a powerful on-board computer with wireless connectivity to other Orbs and a central computer called the Mother Node. Orbs roll without external wheels or actuators using the weight of the batteries as a ballast. Motors move the ballast off-center and cause the Orb to roll in that direction. Tilting the ballast away from the roll axis allows the Orb to steer.
SWARM is built to explore the aesthetic possibilities and the emergent behavior of artificial systems. As a first step, Orbs are remote-controlled by human operators, but each Orb’s sounds and color illumination is algorithmically generated in response to location and motion. Each Orb has sophisticated navigational sensors including GPS, accelerometers, and solid-state gyroscopes. We are progressing towards sophisticated navigational algorithms, exactly like those used in spacecraft, that allow each Orb to determine its location and trajectory with high accuracy. From this, we can explore emergent and cooperative behavior like flocking as well as new possibilities in machine choreography. SWARM is not a simulation. SWARM is a platform for the art of the 21st century.