Video: A swarm of robots expertly plays classical music

The team over at the Georgia Robots and InTelligent Systems Laboratory, otherwise known as the GRITSlab, often aim their collective focus on developing swarm robots, or swarmbots. Swarmbots are simple robots that are programmed to behave in a way similar to a swarm of insects; from each individual robot’s simple commands, the group dynamic can develop complex behaviors. Some of the more complex work involves getting the individual robots to reach specific locations at precise times, while other robots are doing the same with other locational goals. In an impressive instance of this, GRITSlab has successfully coaxed a group of swarmbots into playing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on a projected piano. Think of the famous Tom Hanks piano scene in Big, but with tiny robots and a different tune.

The swarmbots used in the project are the tiny and adorable Khepera mobile robots, little (5.5 cm) robots that move around thanks to using two mobile wheels placed on either side of the robot’s body. To help the robots maneuver around the piano and hit the correct notes within a reasonable time limit, they’re equipped with internal cameras and hats that appear to act as antennas. The swarmbots also get help from cameras stationed around the room in which the bots play the score.


As GRITSlab states, the smallest possible team of robots is used to coherently play the song “by solving a spatio-temporal routing problem.” The slower the team dictates the score needs to be, a smaller number of robots are required to play the tune. When the score’s tempo is raised, the swarmbots waiting on the sidelines join the action.

GRITSLab notes that, previously, most swarmbot research separated role assignment and formation control into two separate issues. The goal of this project is to combine those two aspects into one algorithm. Though they didn’t state it, we all know another goal of this project is to create robotic musical geniuses.

GRITSlab, via Engadget