For those of us who like to maintain a simmering, low-grade paranoia about robots - it's entirely healthy! - here's some news from the front lines.
Researchers at Harvard have created a swarm of precisely 1,024 tiny robots that can organize itself into complex shapes, keying off the behavior of insects like bees and ants. The aptly named Kilobots use vibration motors to scoot across flat surfaces and infrared lights to communicate with one another.
The research is being published this week in the latest issue of Science magazine.
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Previous robot swarms have been limited to dozens or hundreds of bots, but the Kilobot project applies some new techniques. The robots operate via an algorithm that determines three collective behaviors: edge-following, gradient formation and localization. These behaviors, when combined, allow the bots to assemble themselves into shapes - a starfish pattern, say, or even a letter of the alphabet.
If an individual bot breaks down, the swarm uses a technique called cooperative monitoring to work around the problem and recover. Even if an individual bot can't directly sense the failure of a nearby companion, the swarm's "hivemind" programming allows for the group to respond as a whole.