The Master Thesis of Veronika Priesner on robots as embedded agents was selected to be the Master-Thesis Highlight 2018 of the Applied Geoinformatics MSc study program in Salzburg. Quoting the upcoming Z_GIS Annual Report 2018 that will be published soon:

“Robots quickly infiltrate our daily lives. Examples are vacuum cleaners and mowing robots as well as self-driving cars. However, the motivation of this research was an educational one: to use robots for demonstrating concepts of complex systems, crowd intelligence and emergence to a lay audience between 6 and 99 years in an interactive and intuitively understandable way.

Emergence is the non-intuitive behaviour of a system that results from the local interaction of ‘smart’ (living) organisms. In her case study, Veronika Priesner programmed small robot-balls to group with their neighbours. The expected result was an emergent, bird-like flock of rolling robots. As Veronika Priesner argues, the combination of computer simulations and hands-on lab activities was expected to lead to greater students’ understanding of the studied matter than either teaching method does by itself.

Ms. Priesner pushed the limits of what can be done with robot-devices that are neither aware about each other, nor about their absolute position. Although flocking behaviour emerged, the results did not live up to prior expectations on a robust application that is apt for educational settings. However, the best insights often derive from failure: Veronika Priesner’s work showed that robots, which do not communicate directly, fall short in delivering robust crowd-intelligent behaviour.

Last but not least it is to mention that this Master Thesis stood out also for its format. Veronika wrote her research according to standards of reproducible research, where figures and tables are directly rendered from underlying data. This picks up on a cutting-edge effort of the scientific community in trying to secure research qualities.”

The spatial simulation team is proud: we all know, the last 10% of a research project are always the toughest, but endurance and rigour pays off. Congratulations, Veronika!