The Robotics Institute

RI | Seminar | September 12 2008

Robotics Institute Seminar, September 12, 2008
Time and Place | Seminar Abstract | Speaker Biography | Speaker Appointments

Engineering Self-Organizing Systems



Radhika Nagpal

Harvard University


Time and Place


Mauldin Auditorium (NSH 1305 )

Time: 3:30 to 4:30 pm




Biological systems, from embryos to ant colonies, achieve tremendous mileage by using vast numbers of cheap and unreliable components to achieve complex goals reliably. We are rapidly building embedded systems with similar characteristics, from self-assembling modular robots to vast sensor networks. How do we engineer robust collective behavior?

In this talk, I will describe two projects from my group where we have used inspiration from nature, both cells and social insects, to design decentralized algorithms for programmable self-assembly. In the first project, we use insights from social insects to design algorithms for collective construction by simple mobile robots. In the second project we use insights from multicellular tissues to design a modular robot that can form complex environmentally-adaptive shapes. In both cases we can achieve "global-to-local compilation": the agents rely on simple and local interactions that provably self-organize a wide class of user-specified global goals. Finally, time permitting, I will show an example of "local-to-global" phenomena that happens in real tissue self-assembly.


Speaker Biography


Radhika Nagpal is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University since 2004. She received her PhD degree in Computer Science from MIT, and spent a year as a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. She is a recipient of the 2005 Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship award and the 2007 NSF Career award. Her research interests are biologically-inspired engineering principles for multi-agent systems and modelling multicellular biology.


Speaker Appointments


For appointments, please contact Seth Goldstein (

The Robotics Institute is part of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.