Micro- and nanorobotics have the potential to revolutionize many applications
including targeted material delivery, assembly, and surgery. The same
properties that promise breakthrough solutions---small size and large
populations---present unique challenges to generating controlled motion. We
want to use large swarms of robots to perform manipulation tasks;
unfortunately, human-swarm interaction studies as conducted today are limited
in sample size, are difficult to reproduce, and are prone to hardware failures.
We present an alternative.
This paper examines the perils, pitfalls, and possibilities we discovered by
launching SwarmControl.net, an online game where players steer swarms of up to
500 robots to complete manipulation challenges. We record statistics from
thousands of players, and use the game to explore aspects of large-population
robot control. We present the game framework as a new, open-source tool for
large-scale user experiments. Our results have potential applications in human
control of micro- and nanorobots, supply insight for automatic controllers, and
provide a template for large online robotic research experiments.