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Future Tech: 

1000-strong robot army swarms on command

Photo courtesy of Dr Michael Rubenstein, Harvard University

Photo courtesy of Dr Michael Rubenstein, Harvard University

We’ve recently seen the origami robot that can assemble itself; now US scientists have created a 1000-strong troop of robots that swarm to order into various shapes. These robots are called, rather alarmingly, Kilobots.

They (very slowly) come in peace

Each identical robot, which measures just a few centimetres across, is given a picture of a shape and together they form it, which can take up to 12 hours. They do this by working out the position of each other, after four ‘seed’ robots start the formation off.

There are 1,024 of these robots to be precise – engineered at Harvard University – which is the same number of bytes in a kilobyte, hence the name; delightfully geeky. They were first shown at a conference in 2012 and can be bought for $100 each.

Three-legged shufflers 

As reported by the BBC, “Each Kilobot shuffles on three straight, spindly legs, chosen because they are cheaper than wheels. The robots’ arena is a large wooden square, about the size of a tournament snooker table”.

Photo courtesy of Dr Michael Rubenstein, Harvard University

Photo courtesy of Dr Michael Rubenstein, Harvard University

An overhead infra-red sensor tells the Kilobots when to begin. Inspired by natural phenomena such as cells forming organs and insects working together to build, the project could have wide-ranging implications, from how driverless cars control themselves to the promise of swarms of mini robots working together to create huge structures.

You can find full results of the experiment in the journal Science.

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