Sabine Hauert is a swarm engineer. She is also a lecturer in robotics at Bristol University and spends a lot of her time designing swarming nanobots for biomed applications. I heard her give a fascinating presentation at Thinking Digital this year, another one to add to the ever growing list of reasons to have gone to the event.

She showed us how a small number of rules can create self organising systems and how the seemingly most basic of structures can use these rules to achieve whatever it is that the engineer is after.

Now, a lot of what she talked about went over my head, even thoughI somehow scraped a degree in zoology. Times have moved on since then. It was, as always, the concepts behind her work that fascinated me most. 

She told us about morphogens, a substance which governs the pattern of tissue development in the body, one of the core processes of our developmental and which establishes the positions of the various cell types within a tissue. It is their non-uniform distribution apparently that sets the structure in our bodies. It reminded me of cosmic background radiation and how ripples in the distribution of energy following the big bang determined the structure of the whole universe. At least that is my understanding.

Whether it is a flock of starlings, the cosmos or the human body, simple processes can lead to highly complex structures and her work is focused on using these natural swarming techniques to solve medical problems.

This made me think about the complexity of work and the workplace. We spend so much time trying to either set up or unravel complicated processes and procedures. As Confucius said ‘Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.’ We should focus less on the complicated and concentrate on the simple.

Anyway, I sat in the audience and listened in awe to her presentation. I want to be a swarm engineer.


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