Area coverage and collective exploration are key challenges for swarm robotics. Previous research in this field has drawn inspiration from ant colonies, with real, or more commonly virtual, pheromones deposited into a shared environment to coordinate behaviour through stigmergy. Repellent pheromones can facilitate rapid dispersal of robotic agents, yet this has been demonstrated only for relatively small swarm sizes (N<30). Here, we report findings from swarms of real robots (Kilobots) an order of magnitude larger (N>300), and from realistic simulation experiments up to N=400. We identify limitations to stigmergy in a spatially constrained environment – a free but bounded two-dimensional workspace – using repellent binary pheromone. At larger N a simple, stigmergic avoidance algorithm becomes first no better, then inferior to, the area coverage of non-interacting random walkers. Thus, with ever-increasing swarm sizes, the assumption of robustness and scalability for such approaches may need to be re-examined. Instead, subcellular biology, and diffusive processes, may prove a better source of inspiration at large N in spatially constrained or high agent density environments.,2.1_1.4_control_no_pher 2.1x1.4_decay_005 2.1x1.4_decay_010 2.1x1.4_decay_0025 robot_trials 3x2_control_no_pher 3x2_decay_005 3x2_decay_010 3x2_decay_0025 3x2_thresh_0.75_decay_005 3x2_thresh_0.75_decay_010 3x2_thresh_0.75_decay_0025,
Date made available1 Oct 2019

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