Swarm is a collection of tiny tabletop robots that let users physically grasp and manipulate digital information

Think of Swarm as physical handles for digital information that you can grasp, twist or push and pull. Almost infinitely manipulable, Swarm forms an ideal platform for making digital interfaces more tangible. These application-agnostic robots can act as spaceships in a video game, dials in a sound editing console, and even cars on a map. The robots haptic feedback physically makes complex data easier to understand.

Swarm pucks can rearrange themselves based on how they are being used. They are particularly powerful when used in applications that require complex computations, combining a machine’s number crunching capabilities with the human knack for asking the right questions.

Swarm is available with a software development kit, or we can develop custom applications for you. Our typical package includes the following hardware:

Hardware and Accessories

  • 25 SWARM robot units 
  • 55″ MultiTaction display
  • Wireless transceiver
  • Computer, Mouse, Keyboard
  • Robot Power Charging Units
  • Equipment Cart with Accessories (optional):
    • Robot Storage Tray
    • Multimedia Speakers
    • USB Hub
    • Power Strip 


  • API Software Design Documentation


  • User Manual
  • Installation and Support
  • Custom Software Add-on (upon request)

For inquiries and pricing contact: info@pattenstudio.com

Application examples:


Command & Control

In a command and control application, emergency response dispatchers can dispatch rescue vehicles by physically moving the corresponding pucks to desired locations on the map.

Systems Visualization

In a protein folding simulation, robots act as handles that provide haptic feedback. If a protein is folded incorrectly, the robot will resist movement, alerting the user to the fold’s mathematical implausibility. In essence, they are tactile controls that transform a highly dimensional math problem into a simple mechanical system.

Understanding Big Data

When applied to complex data sets (e.g. clinical drug trials) Swarm can help users identify patterns and look at data from new perspectives. Users can attach robots to different points in a data set, and use them as physical handles to “twist” the data into different shapes. This allows for a tactile approach to complex mathematical problem solving.

Patten Studio
Concept, Research and Development, Electronics & Software engineering, Production
  • Patten Studio

Swarm was inspired by research James Patten was conducting during his doctorate work at the MIT Media Lab. At MIT, James built a table that could move objects around on top of it using an array of electromagnets. While this platform enabled some exciting new interaction techniques, the size, weight and complexity of the electromagnet based system made it impractical for commercial use. James and his team at Patten Studio redesigned the system from scratch and completely rewrote the software to use small robots instead of electromagnets to move the tabletop objects. After extensive development at Patten Studio, the Swarm hardware is currently in its third generation.

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