HoverBots: Precise locomotion using robots that are designed for manufacturability

Markus P. Nemitz, Mohammed E. Sayed, John Mamish, Gonzalo Ferrer, Lijun Teng, Ross M. McKenzie, Alfred O. Hero, Edwin Olson, Adam A. Stokes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Scaling up robot swarms to collectives of hundreds or even thousands without sacrificing sensing, processing, and locomotion capabilities is a challenging problem. Low-cost robots are potentially scalable, but the majority of existing systems have limited capabilities, and these limitations substantially constrain the type of experiments that could be performed by robotics researchers. As an alternative to increasing the quantity of robots by reducing their functionality, we have developed a new technology that delivers increased functionality at low-cost. In this study, we present a comprehensive literature review on the most commonly used locomotion strategies of swarm robotic systems. We introduce a new type of low-friction locomotion-active low-friction locomotion-and we show its first implementation in the HoverBot system. The HoverBot system consists of an air levitation and magnet table, and a HoverBot agent. HoverBot agents are levitating circuit boards that we have equipped with an array of planar coils and a Hall-effect sensor. The HoverBot agent uses its coils to pull itself toward magnetic anchors that are embedded into a levitation table. These robots use active low-friction locomotion; consist of only surface-mount components; circumvent actuator calibration; are capable of odometry by using a single Hall-effect sensor; and perform precise movement. We conducted three hours of experimental evaluation of the HoverBot system in which we observed the system performing more than 10,000 steps. We also demonstrate formation movement, random collision, and straight collisions with two robots. This study demonstrates that active low-friction locomotion is an alternative to wheeled and slip-stick locomotion in the field of swarm robotics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number55
JournalFrontiers Robotics AI
Issue numberNOV
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Design for manufacturability
  • HoverBot
  • Low-friction locomotion
  • Physical simulation
  • Precise locomotion
  • Robot testbed
  • Swarm robots


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