Real Robotics: 1,024 tiny robots learn to work together, mimic shapes

Taking a break from fiction, today we bring you a bit of Transformers-relevant news from the world of science! Harvard University researchers have taught a swarm of 1,024 small robots called ‘Kilobots’ to work together and emulate shapes, the BBC reports.

The Kilobots are small cylindrical robots, each measuring about two inches tall with three spindly little legs, and communicate with each other via infrared sensors. When provided a simple graphic image, the Kilobots begin marching into place, arranging themselves to mimic that image. Inspired in part by certain species of ants that work together to form living structures like nests and rafts, Dr Michael Rubenstein and his team set out to try to teach simple robots to work together towards a common end.

“The structures that ants form are relatively different from the structure that we were able to form, but it’s the same type of principle,” he said.
The whole process is also incredibly time consuming.
Dr Rubenstein said he hasn’t taken his Kilobot show on the road anywhere, and doesn’t even tidy the robots away when they’re finished: “We just leave them sitting on the table. It would take a couple of hours to pack them into a box.”
Even watching the programmed images take shape, over six to 12 hours, is far from a spectator sport.
“It wasn’t very exciting,” said Dr Rubenstein, who “usually stuck around” to take notes, in case of a mishap. “Actually watching the experiment run is like watching paint dry.”

Okay, so we’re still a few years away from Kinetic Solutions Inc.’s partsforming, Transformium-based robots seen in this summer’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, but scientists are buzzing about the potential applications as “swarm engineering” technology advances. Read the full story and check out a short video of the Kilobots in action HERE at the BBC website and then discuss the Kilobots HERE in the Allspark Forums!

Kilobots arrange themselves to mimic shapes show to them by Harvard scientists.
Kilobots arrange themselves to mimic shapes show to them by Harvard scientists.