What is swarm intelligence?
Actually it is difficult to give a definition - the scientific community does not agree on one yet. We at the ACT define swarm intelligence as the emerging property of systems made by multiple identical non-cognitive agents characterized by limited sensing capabilities. In other words: When a set of simple machines perform simple behaviours we observe that the outcome may not be at all simple. Indeed, this effect of emerging behaviour resembles that of biological swarms, where a number of rather un-intelligent animals may form a swarm and hence achieve more than the sum of the individuals could do. Swarm intelligence, as a research field, has come from the observation of swarming animals and from the attempts of the scientists to mimic their behaviour. As an example of its biological counterpart, think of some types of fish that show a certain bell shaped swarm configuration when they feel attacked in order to frighten and keep away potential predators.
Furthermore, a number of space applications are based on the presence of multiple space agents.
The very first commercial application proposed and realized for satellite systems was that of Arthur C. Clarke and was a satellite constellation providing global communication services by means of three satellites put in a geostationary orbit. Since then, a large number of constellations have been deployed to provide global communication, navigation and Earth observation services. More recently, the idea of satellites flying in formation has also been used in a number of missions for applications ranging from X-Ray astronomy, differential measurements of the geomagnetic field, space interferometry, to the search for exoplanets.
Swarm intelligence methods represent an attractive design option allowing autonomous operations of multiple spacecraft be achieved. Simpler agents with limited capabilities could be considered as a resource, rather than as an overhead. At the same time, one is able to engineer systems that are robust, autonomous, adaptable, distributed and redundant. In addition, swarms allow for mass production of single components and represent highly stowable systems.
The ACT is involved in a number of research activities in swarm intelligence which are described on the Artificial Intelligence pages of this website. At the moment we are investigating, together with the University of Bruxelles, how to evolve the control systems of the agents based on the collective achievements of the swarm. The results of this study, part of the Ariadna scheme, will be ready in early 2008.
An ACT Podcast on the subject of swarm intelligence for space application is also available for download, try it!!!
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