Mike Rubenstein

Northwestern University
Evanston, IL

Email:   rubenstein@northwestern.edu

    I am an assistant professor with a joint appoitment in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering departments at Northwestern University.

Research Interests:

   My research interest is to advance the control and design of multi-robot systems, enabling their use instead of traditional single robots and to solve problems for which traditional robots are not suitable. Using these multi-robot systems can offer more parallelism, adaptability, and fault tolerance when compared to a traditional single robot. I am also interested in investigating how new technologies will allow for more capable multi-robot systems, and how these technologies impact the design of multi-robot algorithms, especially as these systems begin to number in the hundreds, thousands, or even millions of robots.

Interested in joining my research group?    I am looking for students interested in building and controlling robot swarms, please email me for more information.

11/2015 - My low cost education robot, AERobot, is now availible for purchase through seeed studio here.
9/2015 - I am excited to be joining Northwestern University as an assistant professor, with a joint appointment in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering departments!
12/2014 - My work on thousand robot self assembly is runner-up for Science's "breakthrough of the year", see article here or pdf here.
8/2014 - My paper on 1024 robot self-assembly was published in Science! An open access link to the article can be found by clicking the PDF link on this webpage.
4/2014 - Check out our winning design for the "AFRON low cost educational robot contest", AERobot.
11/2013 - It is now easier to create programs for the Kilobot, thanks to an online editor and compilation tool available at Kilobotics.com.

11/2012-Present Researcher Harvard University
  • Robotic Shape Self-assembly: Programmable self-assembly in a thousand robot swarm.

        Self-assembly enables nature to build complex forms, from multicellular organisms to complex animal structures such as flocks of birds, through the interaction of vast numbers of limited and unreliable individuals. Creating this ability in engineered systems poses challenges in the design of both algorithms and physical systems that can operate at such scales. This work demonstrates programmable self-assembly of complex two-dimensional shapes with a thousand-robot swarm. This was enabled by creating autonomous robots designed to operate in large groups and to cooperate through local interactions and by developing a collective algorithm for shape formation that is highly robust to the variability and error characteristic of large-scale decentralized systems. This work advances the aim of creating artificial swarms with the capabilities of natural ones.

    For more information, please see our recent publication in Science (an open access link to the article can be found by clicking the PDF link on this webpage), and the supplementary material.

11/2013-Present Researcher Harvard University
  • AERobot Project: A low-cost robot designed to introduce students of all ages to the fundamentals of programming and control of robots

        AERobot (Affordable Education Robot) is a low-cost robot designed to introduce students of all ages to the fundamentals of programming and control of robots, with the hope of inspiring them to further pursue studies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). We hope that AERobotís low cost ($10.70 including assembly) will enable more students, especially those who could not normally afford to do so, to gain hands-on experience in robotics. In addition to robot design, we have created a software suite for the robot by modifying minibloqs, a graphical programming language, and created a 15 lesson curriculum for a student with no starting experience to learn the basics of programming flow and logic, the use of sensors and actuators, and to create robot behaviors.

11/2010-2013 Postdoctoral research Harvard University
  • Kilobot Project: A low cost robot system designed for demonstrating collective behaviors in a group of 1024 robots.

        In current robotics research there is a vast body of work on algorithms and control methods for groups of decentralized cooperating robots, called a swarm or collective. These algorithms are generally meant to control collectives of hundreds or even thousands of robots; however, for reasons of cost, time, or complexity, they are generally validated in simulation only, or on a group of a few tens of robots. To address this issue, we created Kilobot, a low-cost robot designed to make testing collective algorithms on hundreds or thousands of robots accessible to robotics researchers. To enable the possibility of large Kilobot collectives where the number of robots is an order of magnitude larger than the largest that exist today, each robot is made with $14 worth of parts and takes 5 minutes to assemble. Furthermore, the robot design allows a single user to easily oversee the operation of a large Kilobot collective, such as programming, powering on, and charging all robots, which would be difficult or impossible to do with many existing robotic systems.

    The below videos show Kilobots being used for collective transport using a variety of control algorithms. For more details see the AAMAS2013 paper and the IROS2013 paper.

The following videos explain the Kilobot system and present some early demonstrations.

09/2005-10/2009 PhD Thesis
Committee: Dr. Wei-Min Shen, Dr. Cheng-Ming Chuong , Dr. Ari Requicha
  • Self-Assembly and Self-Healing For Robotic Collectives
    Defended 11/2009

        For my PhD thesis, I developed a control algorithm for a multi-robot system which guarantees that it can self-assemble and self-heal any connected shape desired. This control algorithm, called S-DASH, allows a group of decentralized robots to form the desired shape at a size proportional to the current number of robots without direct knowledge of that number. If the group shape is damaged by moving, adding, or removing some robots, S-DASH will cause the robot group to reform the desired shape at a size proportional to the new number of robots.

    The following video shows an example of my thesis work on self-assembling and self-healing shapes. My thesis can be found here.

09/2003-11/2009 PolyMorphic Robotics Lab, Information Sciences Institute, University of Southern California
Research Assistant for Wei-Min Shen
  • SuperBot: Modular, Multifunctional and Reconfigurable Robots

       Superbot is a new generation of modular self-reconfigurable robots (MSR) developed for a NASA grant to advance MSRs to operate outside of the laboratory environment, bringing the system closer to the idea of a space-qualified MSR. I helped to develop and implement many behaviors on Superbot, some of which met milestones for the NASA grant. These behaviors allowed Superbot to climb over 100 meters on steep sand dunes, traverse long distances on battery power, and navigate rough rocky terrain, all of which had never been done with a MSR before. Below are two example videos showing Superbot in rolling track and sidewinder configurations.
  • LANdroids: Distributed Radio Relay Nodes
    A project to create small, inexpensive, smart robotic radio relay nodes that self-configure and form a radio relay network in an urban setting.
  • MORPHOS: Self-Assembly and Self-Healing
    To deepen our understating of self-healing and construct a physical system that can demonstrate morphallaxis.

09/1999-06/2003 Purdue University, Purdue Solar Racing
Team Member
  • Design and Production of a Solar Electric Vehicle
    Vehicle raced from Chicago to Los Angeles, under solar power

08/2003 - 11/2009 University of Southern California
PhD, Computer Science
Advisor: Wei-Min Shen
08/2003 - 06/2005 University of Southern California
Master of Science, Electrical Engineering
08/1999 - 06/2003 Purdue University
Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering


  • BBC News: "Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly", 15 Aug 2014.
  • The Wall Street Journal: "Harvard Scientists Devise Robot Swarm That Can Work Together", 15 Aug 2014.
  • IFL Science: "Researchers Create Thousand Strong Swarm Of Bots That Can Assemble Into Complex Shapes", 15 Aug 2014.
  • NPR: All Things Considered"Do Not Fear This Giant Robot Swarm", Aired 14 Aug 2014.
  • National Science Foundation news: "The 1,000-robot swarm", 14 Aug 2014.
  • National Geographic: "A Swarm of a Thousand Cooperative,Self-Organizing Robots", 14 Aug 2014.
  • Science News: "Heads up for the gathering robot swarm", 14 Aug 2014.
  • Nature News: "Researchers create 1,000-robot swarm", 14 Aug 2014.
  • Scientific American: "1,000-Robot Swarm Created by Researchers", 14 Aug 2014.
  • Slashdot: "A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes", 14 Aug 2014.
  • IEEE Spectrum:"A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes", 14 Aug 2014.
  • Wired:"Scientists Program Largest Swarm of Robots Ever", 14 Aug 2014.
  • ACM Communications Magazine:"Rise of the Swarm", March 2013.
  • Scientific America Magazine, March 2013.
  • Slashdot: "African Robotics Network Challenge Spurs Rash of $10 Robots". September 2012.
  • Wired: "These $10 Robots Will Change Robotics Education", September 2012.
  • Inside Nova: "Adventures in Swarm Robotics". September 2012.
  • Slashdot: "Harvard Licenses Technology For Tiny Swarming Robot". November 2011.
  • RobotsPodCast: "Robots: Demonstrations at IROS". October 2011.
  • IEEE Spectrum: "Kilobots Are Cheap Enough to Swarm in the Thousands". June 2011.
  • Slashdot: "Kilobots - Cheap Swarm Robots Out of Harvard". June 2011.
  • New Scientist: "Born to be Viral: Robot swarm forages for food". June 2011.
  • Make Magazine: "Harvard's $14 Swarm-bot Design". June 2011.
  • Engaget: "Harvard's Kilobot project does swarm robots on the cheap". June 2011.
  • Popular Science: "Introducing Kilobot, a Swarm Robot Cheap Enough to Actually Swarm". June 2011.
  • BBC: "Visions of the Future - The Intelligence Revolution". 2008.
  • Discovery Channel: "Beyond Tomorrow". November 2005.