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Published: Wednesday August 20, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday August 21, 2014 MYT 1:24:01 PM

Robo-swarm’s bright promise

KiloBots, latest breakthrough in robotics, can self-assemble to solve problems.

Without any helping hand, more than 1,000 simple robots the size of votive candles can swarm themselves into complex shapes like a star or the letter K, US researchers said last Thursday. The project is the latest breakthrough in robotics from a team at Harvard University that has also created robots inspired by termites.

Called KiloBots, these 1,024 simple machines were designed to act like bees and ants, using vibration motors to glide across surfaces and infrared lights to communicate with each other.

“We are especially inspired by systems where individuals can self-assemble together to solve problems,” says Radhika Nagpal, professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

A swarm of KiloBots, one thousand simple but collaborative robots capable of forming themselves into complex shapes. The project is the latest breakthrough in robotics from a team at Harvard University that has also created robots inspired by termites. - AFP
A swarm of KiloBots, 1,000 simple but collaborative robots capable of forming themselves into complex shapes. The project is the latest breakthrough in robotics from a team at Harvard University that has also created robots inspired by termites. – AFP

The project, described in the US journal Science, builds on past advances by including more robots. Previous researchers used dozens or hundreds. Because of the simple design, the robots can only communicate with others that are less than the distance of three robots away, but they need no intervention once they get their pre-programmed order.

Just what they may be used for someday is not known yet. But whether the robots act like a school of fish or an army of ants on tasks like environmental clean-up or disaster response, researchers say they believe the robots could one day be a boon to society.

“Biological collectives involve enormous numbers of cooperating entities – whether you think of cells or insects or animals – that together accomplish a single task that is a magnitude beyond the scale of any individual,” says lead author Michael Rubenstein, a research associate at Harvard SEAS and the Wyss Institute. – AFP

Tags / Keywords: Science & Technology, Science, robotics, flash mob robots, KiloBots, swarm, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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