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Disentangling automatic and semi-automatic approaches to the optimization-based design of control software for robot swarms


Optimization-based design is an effective and promising approach to realizing collective behaviours for robot swarms. Unfortunately, the domain literature often remains vague about the exact role played by the human designer, if any. It is our contention that two cases should be disentangled: semi-automatic design, in which a human designer operates and steers an optimization process (for example, by fine-tuning the parameters of the optimization algorithm); and (fully) automatic design, in which the optimization process does not involve, need or allow any human intervention. In this Perspective, we briefly review the relevant literature; illustrate the hypotheses, characteristics and core challenges of semi-automatic and automatic design; and sketch out the context in which they could be ideally applied.

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Fig. 1: Flowcharts of typical approaches to optimization-based design.


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The project has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 681872). M.B. acknowledges support from the Belgian Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique—FNRS, of which he is a research director.

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M.B. led the discussion, drafted the manuscript and coordinated its revision. All authors contributed to the elaboration of the ideas presented in the manuscript, read it and provided comments.

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Correspondence to Mauro Birattari.

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Birattari, M., Ligot, A. & Hasselmann, K. Disentangling automatic and semi-automatic approaches to the optimization-based design of control software for robot swarms. Nat Mach Intell 2, 494–499 (2020).

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