|Science: How Stuff Works|
Fish gotta school, birds gotta flock, and robots, it seems, gotta swarm. At least, that’s what they’re doing on the workbench of Harvard University computer scientists Michael Rubenstein and Radhika Nagpal and Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Alejandro Cornejo. Each of their 1024 robots, called Kilobots, is a three-legged disk the size of a U.S. quarter, sporting a single curl of metallic hair. En masse, they form a mechanical multitude an order of magnitude larger than any robot swarm ever built—a possible precursor to future robot work squads choreographed for chores such as cleaning up oil spills.
“That is a beautiful accomplishment,” says Hod Lipson, a roboticist at Cornell University who was not involved with the work. “Really getting a thousand robots to perform in sort of perfect synchrony.”
The idea for swarms of robots working together comes from nature. Army ants link themselves together to form rafts and bridges, and neurons in a brain fire off signals that collectively create intelligence. They do it all by following collective algorithms—shared sets of rules and instructions—and taking their cues from what’s going on around them. Each individual is “just doing its own thing, locally. But fantastic things emerge out of their collective behavior,” Lipson says.
Science: Heads up for the gathering robot swarm, Angus Chen