Watching a swarm of mini robots throw shapes is weirdly hypnotic

Like a flock of sparrows or a giant school of fish, researchers in Harvard University’s Self-Organizing Systems Research Group have developed a “large-scale robot collective” capable of assembling to form a variety of different shapes.

In the work — which was recently presented at the International Symposium on Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems (DARS) — the 725 Kilobot robots start out in a tight grid-like group, before those not required to form a certain pattern disperse to leave the desired shape. Doing this requires a coordinated system in which the robots are able to determine a plan of action, based on a single overhead light, which they follow.

Impressively, much like the aforementioned example of birds or fish, they are able to do this despite only being able to communicate with robots up to three body lengths away — so that each robot can only communicate with a maximum of 36 other robots at any given time.

tiny robot flock both

“Shape formation is an important problem in multi-agent systems,” researcher Melvin Gauci, a postdoctoral fellow in the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group, told Digital Trends. “It is a challenging, multifaceted problem that requires high degrees of autonomy, and is therefore a good test-bed for integrating atomic algorithms into higher-level behaviors. In this case, the atomic behaviors include self-organized coordinate system formation, consensus, and random and light-based motion.”

According to Gauci, one possible real-world application of this work is in building multi-robot systems that are able to assume a desired formation in order to adapt to its changing environment.

“Further down the line, the vision is to scale these systems down in size to achieve programmable matter where a user will be able to create a tool or part on the fly from a ‘bucket’ of robotic ‘atoms,’” he said.

Photography

MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.
Emerging Tech

This unusual nature-inspired robot is equally at home on land or in the water

This intriguing, nature-inspired robot may look unusual, but it's impressively capable of moving on both land and water without problem. Heck, it can even travel on ice if necessary.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Emerging Tech

It’s no flying car, but the e-scooter had a huge impact on city streets in 2018

Within just a year, electric scooters have fundamentally changed how we navigate cities. From San Francisco to Paris, commuters have a new option that’s more fun than mass transit, easier than a bike, and definitely not a car.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.
Giveaways

Print your heart’s desire: Enter our giveaway to win a free Monoprice 3D printer

We’re giving away a $400 Monoprice MP Voxel 3D Printer. It's easy to use, especially for beginners, with its simple menu system and touchscreen display. It comes fully assembled so you can spend more time printing instead of setting up.
Emerging Tech

An A.I. cracks the internet’s squiggly letter bot test in 0.5 seconds

How do you prove that you’re a human when communicating on the internet? The answer used to be by solving a CAPTCHA puzzle. But maybe not for too much longer. Here is the reason why.
Emerging Tech

Makerbot is back with a new 3D printer that’s faster and more precise than ever

MakerBot's new Method 3D printer aims to bridge the gap between home 3D printers and more industrial 3D printing tech. Here are a few of the tantalizing things you can expect from it.
Emerging Tech

Warm ski beanie instantly hardens into a head-protecting helmet upon impact

Wool hats are way more comfortable than hard helmets. You know what they're not? Safer. That could soon change, thanks to an innovative new ski beanie which instantly hardens upon impact.
Deals

Take to the skies with these 5 drones on sale for under $50

On the hunt for some cool tech for under $50? We've rounded up 5 drones under $50 that you can still get before Christmas. These models are great for kids, adults, and anyone just getting started with drones.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.