Research: Tiny robots may think as a group

Dec. 14, 2012 at 8:23 PM

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 14 (UPI) -- A U.S. researcher says a swarm of tiny robots could be a better solution to accomplishing tasks than one big one and has made "ping-pong" ball-sized examples.

University of Colorado at Boulder computer scientist Nikolaus Correll and his research team have developed a basic robotic "building block" which they hope to reproduce in large quantities to develop increasingly complex systems, the university reported Friday.

They've created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a Ping Pong ball, which they've dubbed "droplets." When the droplets swarm together, Correll said, they form a "liquid that thinks."

Swarms of tiny intelligent robotic devices could be for containing an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware after being launched separately into space, he said.

The "droplets" will be used to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change, Correll said.

These behaviors could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks.

Correll said such distributed intelligence systems could someday accomplish even the most complex tasks.

"Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells," he said. "Perhaps someday, our [robot] swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers."

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