The kilobots are here! When most people think about robot technology, they usually think about the advance robot technology, and what a single robot can do, but that would be missing out on a lot of the potential for robots. Researchers at Harvard University have successfully developed a swarm of mini robots which, through simple programming, can self-organize into complex shapes in something similar to a robot flash mob.
These mini robots are called “kilobots” and only measure a couple of inches across while standing on three wire thin legs. While these kilobots are quite simple as individuals, they are able to work together in ways whihc allow them to perform complex actions and tasks. So while a single mini robot can’t do much on its own, when a group of them are together with some basic information programmed into them, they can perform more complex actions:
Radhika Nagpal, who helped create the kilobot swarm at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) noted, “The beauty of biological systems is that they are elegantly simple — and yet, in large numbers, accomplish the seemingly impossible. At some level you no longer even see the individuals; you just see the collective as an entity to itself…Increasingly, we’re going to see large numbers of robots working together, whether it’s hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways.”
What’s truly amazing is the bots don’t require micromanagement once the the software instruction have been delivered. Four of the kilobots become the anchors of the system to coordinate while the others receive a 2D image they are supposed to mimic. Using the basic tools at their disposal, each bot takes turns moving into a position to help create the image they’re after.
Even mistakes can’t hold them up. If, while attempting to create the shape, a traffic jam occurs or one of the robots goes off course, the others sense that there’s an issue and cooperate together to fix it through an infrared transmitter which allows each bot to communicate and measure its distance with those within a certain range of itself.
You can also build your own mass army of these kilobots. The information you need to build and program your own kilobot has been published, allowing anyone to play and experiment with what these hive-minded bots can do.