Tuesday, November 15, 2005
4:15 pm
G10 Biotech

Computer Science
Fall 2005

Co-sponsored by
Cognitive Studies

Radhika Nagpal
Harvard University

Engineering and Understanding Robust Collective Behavior

Biological systems, from embryos to social insects, get 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 robots to sensor networks. How do we understand and engineer collective behavior?

In this talk I will describe two ongoing projects in my group. The goal of the first project is to understand how local cell behavior affects global tissue-level properties in the developing fruitfly wing. I will show an abstract model of cell division that led to an unexpected prediction - that the system intrinsically regulates polygonal cell shape to a fixed global distribution. This distribution appears to be conserved across a diverse set of organisms.

The goal of the second project is to design local behaviors for robots so that they collectively achieve a desired global goal, such as constructing a user-specified 2D block structure. I will discuss a set of local algorithms we have developed, and show how transferring "sophistication" from the robots to the blocks can result in higher efficiency and robustness. I will also describe a prototype we have built using simple robots and RFID enhanced blocks.


Radhika Nagpal joined Harvard University as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science in Sept 2004. She received her PhD degree in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001. In between she was a postdoc lecturer at MIT and then a research fellow at the Systems Biology department at Harvard Medical School. Her research interests are biologically-inspired approaches to multi-agent systems and modeling multi-cellular behavior in biology. She recently received the 2005 Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship award.