How cool would it be to have the title of "swarm robotics pioneer" on your business card? Rice University's professor James McLurkin just happens to be one of a handful of people who can stake this claim. He recently shared details of the R-One Robot kit, a low-cost multi-robot systems platform that is, "advanced enough for multirobot research, robust enough for undergraduate and graduate education and cheap enough for K-12 outreach." The project began shortly after he arrived at Rice in 2009 and came out of his own frustrations of using the same group of robots in his classroom for nearly 8 years. The original group of $2000 robots were in dire need of replacements, but the cost was prohibitive.
McLurkin's R-One currently costs about $200 and he has plans to open-source the design, "so that schools and researchers can work with it and adapt it to their needs." "I wanted Rice's R-one robots to be cheap enough that I could build hundreds of them," McLurkin said. "Lowering the cost was a way to make it possible for our lab to study large swarms, but it was also a way to give something back to the robotics community—to make it possible to put these into any classroom or aftercare program that wants them."
As the most recent recipient of Proto Labs' Cool Idea! award, providing prototyping and short-run production services to award winners, McLurkin hopes to launch a kit early in the next year.