I'm a huge fan of so-called micro robots -- those with cm length scales, thus ? m3. I've posted about numerous micro robots before, including the amazing Alice micro robot swarms from EPFL, and I am a long-time micro and nano autonomous sumo robot advocate (see RoboGames). Perhaps that is why I'm so excited about the SwarmRobot.org open hardware micro-robot swarm, developed by the University of Stuttgart and the University of Karlsruhe. All of the hardware and software is open (in the GPL sense), including parts lists, circuit board and chassis designs, and software. With a stated goal to produce sub-€100 robots, I'd really like to see this take off. Combined with a wireless power surface, a micro-robot in perpetual motion would make a great desk ornament!
I'm not sure how many robots are in the SwarmRobot.org swarm, though they claim it is "currently the largest artificial swarm in the world."
The latest robot variant from this project is called Jasmine III and can be seen in the photos below.
It appears the Jasmine III has abandoned the MegaBity main board used by the Jasmine II. The new main board appears to have integrated IR communication and IR range sensing (left) along with an Atmega microcontroller for computation (middle). In the tiled PCB (right), the mainboards are shown along with the motor controller boards.
The chassis is a special metal cutout that gets bent to shape. It appears that fuse holders are used as motor mounts (a classic technique I used back in my BEAM robotics days). The motors are Solarbotics GM15 planetary gear pager motors.
Those micro planetary gearheads atop pager motors are awesome! I personally own a number of them, sitting around waiting for the right project (more accurately, waiting for me to have time to start a project that would use them). For size comparison, check out these images from Solarbotics. The SwarmRobot.org project webpage has a useful tutorial showing how to replace the belt output shaft with a geared output shaft here.
Of course, this swarm runs on batteries -- much like the Alice robots. The designers made special hooks that can connect to a power bus, as shown below.
I'm still not a fan of the whole "bulk recharge" idea for micro robots. Then again, having developed wireless powered robots for this exact swarm application, I'm most definitely biased. Undeniably, a perpetually active, wirelessly powered swarm of robots would make an interesting art piece -- I'd certainly appreciate one sitting on my desk.
Incidentally, I'd really like to find some videos of these swarm(s) in action. If you come across some, please drop us a line either on the Hizook contact form or in the comments below.