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Crowdsourcing Swarm Manipulation Experiments: A Massive Online User Study with Large Swarms of Simple Robots


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, 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.