Robot Swarm: Nation’s Most Innovative Robotics Exhibit Opens at National Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan

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Visitors Able to Interact with Dozens of Robots, Gain Understanding of Mathematical Behaviors at One-of-a-Kind, Cutting-Edge Exhibit. Public Opening: Sunday, December 14, 2014

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We are thrilled to introduce the world to Robot Swarm and offer another opportunity for visitors to experience the interactive, engaging and fun aspects of mathematics.

On Sunday, December 14, the enormously popular National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), which has attracted over 300,000 visitors since its opening in December 2012, will debut Robot Swarm, the Museum’s newest, groundbreaking permanent exhibit and the most technologically advanced robotics exhibit in the nation. Drawing on expertise from the top minds in robotics and computer science, Robot Swarm is the only place in the United States where visitors can interact with multiple robots simultaneously and understand mathematical behavior through concrete experience.

Standing in the exhibit, which resembles a small boxing ring, visitors will be able to interact with two dozen small, glowing robots that live underneath an 11-foot by 12-foot glass floor. Each robot’s movement is based on the positions of other robots and the positions of visitors on the floor, who are wearing color-coded SensorPacks that enable the robots to detect them.

Other visitors will use Robot Swarm’s interactive control deck to select the robots’ behavior. In the “Pursue” behavior, the robots try to get as close as possible to visitors, while in “Run Away,” they scatter as visitors chase them. In “Robophobia,” all of the robots are afraid of each other and will strive to run as far away from all the other robots as possible. Eventually, the entire group of “robophobic” robots will cease movement, frozen in a static, crystal-like arrangement that maximizes the distance between each robot and its closest neighbor.

“At MoMath, we strive to show visitors that math is more than crunching numbers.” said Glen Whitney, MoMath co-founder and co-executive director. “We are thrilled to introduce the world to Robot Swarm and offer another opportunity for visitors to experience the interactive, engaging and fun aspects of mathematics.”

With cutting-edge new developments in motion control and positioning systems, Robot Swarm, which has been in development since 2009, gives insight into “emergent behavior,” an area of mathematics that deals with understanding how simple, local interactions can lead to large-scale organized behavior – like flocks of birds or schools of fish.

While the robots in the exhibit appear to be very organized, as if a leader were giving orders to each robot, no such leader robot exists. Each robot’s behavior is determined only by local information that it can directly observe – the locations and distances to nearby robots and to the visitors standing above. These pieces of information are used in simple rules that apply uniformly to the robots, enabling each robot to figure out which direction to take and how fast it should go. The collection of many robots all pursuing similar local rules leads to the overarching, organic behavior visitors can observe in Robot Swarm.

“Like MoMath’s other exhibits, Robot Swarm will bring math to life for visitors of all ages,” said Cindy Lawrence, who joined Whitney in founding the Museum and now serves as co-executive director. “We expect small children to be attracted to the robots’ bright and lifelike demeanor, and high school students to enjoy manipulating the robots’ behavior. We also hope academics will use the exhibit as a tool to visualize theoretical work.”

Robot Swarm will open to the public on Sunday, December 14. A Members-Only Preview event will be held on Friday, December 12, at 6 p.m. On Saturday, December 13, at 7:30 p.m. adults can explore Robot Swarm at Swarm Night, a special edition of Unbounded, MoMath’s 21+ night at the Museum. For more information, visit swarm.momath.org.

About the National Museum of Mathematics
The National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) strives to enhance public understanding and perception of mathematics in daily life. The only math museum in North America, MoMath fulfills an incredible demand for hands-on math programming, creating a space where those who are math-challenged – as well as math enthusiasts of all backgrounds and levels of understanding – can revel in the infinite world of mathematics through more than 30 state-of-the-art interactive exhibits. MoMath was awarded the bronze 2013 MUSE Award for Education and Outreach by the American Alliance of Museums. MoMath is located at 11 E 26th Street on the north side of popular Madison Square Park in Manhattan. The Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, visit momath.org.

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Brittnie Mabry

Amanda Bush