Have you ever seen an army of ants following orders? Grabbing a piece of bread from your picnic basket, lifting it up and uniformly march off into their anthill. Well, similarly the Harvard School of Engineering in Massachusetts have built what are called Kilobots, tiny robots which march to form shapes when given electronic commands.
Each Kilobot doesn’t look like much, just a few centimeters in diameter, standing on tiny matchstick like legs. Harvard’s Kilobots swarm and cooperate in a 1,000-strong mass to create complex shapes like the letter “K”, or a starfish. This demonstrates how simple machines performing simple behavior can create complexity when working together. There is no human interaction involved, communication is done via infrared.
Four robots move to the center of the shape, while the rest follow the edge of the group and use their relative positions to take turns to fill in the shape. If a traffic jam forms, nearby robots sense the issue and co-operate to fix it as well as other errors that are encountered. This is the first time that more than 100 robots have demonstrated skills collectively. Past attempts have only gotten to around 100 robots working together. After 100 the hardware needed for the robots had to be more advanced and expensive. To be precise 1024 simple robots operate as a team and accomplish what is seemingly impossible.
The technology is based on works of algorithms and control methods. The legs are powered by vibration motors that it uses to slide around in response to commands issued over an infrared control system. Though they have trouble moving in a straight line they manage to work together to show that complexity can come from simplicity. Technology is an important milestone in the development of artificial intelligence. According to researchers working on this project, this could be the future of robotics.