Published: Oct. 18, 2018 By

Robot typing on a keyboard


CU Boulder hosted the 2018 International Symposium on Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems this week at the University Memorial Center.

The conference was hosted by CU Boulder computer science Associate Professor Nikolaus Correll and Mac Schwager, an assistant professor of aero- and astronautical engineering at Stanford University with support from the Autonomous Systems Interdisciplinary Research Theme and the Multi-functional Materials Interdisciplinary Research Theme within the College of Engineering and Applied Science. About 65 faculty, students, researchers and sponsors from around the globe attended the conference. 

Distributed robotics is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field, combining research in computer science, communication and control systems as well as electrical and mechanical engineering. Distributed robotics systems can and are solving complex problems in the real world related to a variety of applications such as food supply, transportation, manufacturing, security and emergency services.

CU Boulder Professor Eric Frew offered the opening keynote address to the conference, discussing cooperative information gathering experiments with unmanned aircraft. Frew, who is also the director of the Autonomous Systems theme, said the conference was an important one for the university to host.

“With the emergence of distributed robotics as a technology for solving complex societal problems, it is great to be able to share our work here at CU Boulder with this community. I think many of the participants were impressed with the scope of our research, and most importantly, our ability to put that research into practice,” he said.

Computer science Professors Julien Bourgeois of University of Bourgogne Franche-Comté in France and John Ousterhout of Stanford University also offered keynote addresses at the conference. Bourgeois is a leader in programmable matter. Most of Ousterhout’s current research is in the area of granular computing. The goal of granular computing is to replicate decision making by thousands of robots and Internet of Things devices in a data center, possibly allowing for control of thousands from one central location – a controversial idea at a distributed robotics conference.

 Correll said the conference might sound niche at first, but the topics covered had many applications in the real world and are currently in use today.

"This is illustrated by our local sponsors Here Technologies, Canvas Technologies and Modular Robotics, who develop multi-robot systems ranging from large fleets of cars, to logistic applications and educational ‘programmable matter’ that are already used in more than 5,000 schools across the country," he said.