Harvard’s Kilobots Prove There Is Always Strength in Numbers

A team of researchers from the Harvard University recently unveiled a pilot project that studies the possibilities of autonomous robots that arrange themselves into vast, complex shapes. The scientists believed they’ve created a artificial system that could replicate the way single cells can assemble into complex multicellular organisms.
The Kilobots 1 photo
Photo: Harvard
Imagine you could command 1,024 little bots to form a sea star shape through a computer and it would work the same way a flash mob functions. Using an infrared light, the robots begin to “blink” at one another and then gradually arrange themselves into a five-pointed star.

Named Kilobots, these extremely simple robots, each just a few centimeters across, stand on three pin-like legs. The innovative feature is that all the small robots collaborate, providing a simple platform for the enactment of complex behaviors. In other words, they use the small brain of many to created a complex system.

Just as trillions of individual cells can assemble into an intelligent organism, or a thousand starlings can form a great flowing murmuration across the sky, the Kilobots demonstrate how complexity can arise from very simple behaviors performed en masse. To computer scientist, they also represent a significant milestone in the development of collective artificial intelligence,” the project is explained on the website.

Scientists believe the discovery could lead to future complex systems that would help accomplish the seemingly impossible, in a similar way insects or even large animals together accomplish a single task that is a magnitude beyond the scale of any individual.

Besides it’s limitless possibilities, the ground-braking discovery is reportedly a premiere, considering only a few robot swarms to date have exceeded 100 individuals. Until now, the algorithmic limitations on coordinating such large numbers and the cost and labor involved in fabricating the physical devices stopped researchers from building it.

According to the source, the research team overcame both of these challenges via thoughtful design.

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