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Harvard ­nleashes a Swarm of Self-Organizing Robots

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A swarm of more than 1,000 simple but collaborative robots.

Researchers at Harvard have developed a method that allows a multitude of robots to coordinate their actions to accomplish a task.

Credit: Mike Rubenstein and Science/AAAS

Harvard University researchers are studying how robots can mimic biological processes using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. The researchers have developed a method enabling thousands of robots to coordinate their actions so they can complete a single task.

The researchers built 1,024 small, mobile, three-legged robots, known as Kilobots that can move and communicate with one another using infrared laser beams. People can issue commands to the robots, and they will coordinate with each other to arrange themselves into the desired pattern.

"The beauty of biological systems is that they are elegantly simple--and yet, in large numbers, accomplish the seemingly impossible," says Harvard professor Radhika Nagpal.

The researchers say the AI algorithms that help the bots coordinate their movements could be used as the basis of semi-autonomous software and devices that would not need explicit input for each step.

As part of the experiment, each robot received an image of the shape to be formed and then took turns moving into an acceptable position, based on finding the edge of the group and avoiding any traffic jams.

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