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Robotics Hardware Technology

Swarms of Solar-Powered Microbots On the Way 119

Mike writes to tell us that Inhabitat has an interesting article, complete with some pretty pictures, about a new solar-powered swarm robot that could be used to collect data and aid in surveillance. "These mini-robots are quite revolutionary, considering that they contain all that's necessary to collect data and relay it back using one single circuit board. In the past single-chip robots have presented significant design and manufacturing challenges due in part to the use of solder as an adhesive. These new microbots use conductive adhesive to attach the components to a double-sided flexible printed circuit board using surface mount technology. The circuit is then folded into thirds and wrapped around the ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit). On top, a solar cell generates power for the robot and delivers 3.6 V to the unit, which is enough for it to walk. Locomotion is achieved via three vibrating legs, while a fourth horizontal vibrating leg is used as a touch sensor."
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Swarms of Solar Powered Microbots On the Way

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  • Re:apart from ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Architect_sasyr ( 938685 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @07:32AM (#29271987)
    I have a solar calculator that works just fine under lights at night (with the dead battery removed). Why couldn't something this small draw enough power from overhead fluro's?
  • Impressive (Score:4, Interesting)

    by A. B3ttik ( 1344591 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @07:40AM (#29272037)
    These things look like something right out of a science-fiction movie. I wonder how expensive they are to produce? They look light enough that you could literally spray them from a passing plane to gather intel on a suspicious site.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @07:46AM (#29272071)

    The ultimate way to stop any physical machine nowadays is to cut off its power supply. The ability to configure swarm-based robots that use their own powers is a new milestone at creating a potentially unstoppable force.

    Grey-goo requirements checklist:

    1. Decentralized: check
    2. Self-sustaining: check
    3. Adaptable: not yet but can be potentially achieved with sufficiently complex programming
    4. Self-replicating: not yet, our last bastion of hope

    What a good thing it is that robots can't fsck... yet.

  • Re:On grey goo (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @08:36AM (#29272413)

    Don't confuse the general with the specific, or interpret "optimal" in a different context. Life as a whole has only one objective - preserve itself as efficiently as possible, by maximizing its ability to self-preserve, self-replicate, and adapt to the surrounding environment. This, in fact, is the postulate of natural selection and the theory of evolution (i.e. the complete opposite of intelligent design). This definition of "optimality" doesn't necessarily hold true for any individual specimens (as opposed to species as a whole), and most certainly doesn't necessarily hold true for any other meanings you assign to "optimal" (e.g. living a happy, meaningful, productive, pious, or socially meaningful life means absolutely NOTHING in this context of "optimal")

  • Re:On grey goo (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @08:56AM (#29272603)

    Such a machine may well outperform a biological one, but does it do so in the most efficient way? How much energy does a tree consume to grow a leaf? How much energy is required to produce a solar panel? What is the energy and resource requirements to produce a high-quality mechanical moving part that outlasts a biological one?

    The core assertion of natural selection is that not the strongest species survive but the most efficient (as well as most adaptable, which is another point in which so far technology trails far behind biology, and there is no theoretical basis to prove (or disprove) that a technological solution can in fact be constructed to be more adaptable than a biological one.

  • Re:On grey goo (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ivan_w ( 1115485 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @09:10AM (#29272715) Homepage

    I don't think life has any "Objective". The fact that life forms that self-preserve, replicate and adapt are successful within a time frame doesn't mean there is a "goal". I'd rather term this as a side effect of the chemistry and physics surrounding biological entities.

    To me it's like saying that a star (the little flickering lights in the sky and the sun) "goal" is to efficiently balance its energy output to counteract the gravitational force that tends to collapse it. There is no "goal" or "objective" here - just that's the way it is (and if it weren't that way, we wouldn't be here to see it).

    The same can be said about the fact the laws of physics are (at a macroscopic level anyway) governed by a 3-space/1-time universe and the right value for the Plank constant (again.. with any other configuration - we wouldn't be here to see it)


  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @09:28AM (#29272915) Homepage Journal

    Bring the cost down to near nothing, make them self replicating, then foist them off to agriculture. Since they use nice clean energy, they can replace tractors in planting and harvesting. In between those activities, they can tend the crop. Enough of these little dudes can monitor individual plants for disease, then treat or remove affected plants. Monitor and regulate moisture for maximum effect at each plant. Heck, they could even pollinate plants since the honeybee population has been devastated in recent years.

    If I had a zillion little microbots or nanobots, I could find a LOT of better uses than spying on my neighbor. My neighbors are pretty damned homely anyway, I don't WANT to watch them doing whatever they do when I can't see them!

  • Re:On grey goo (Score:2, Interesting)

    by miasmic ( 669645 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:00AM (#29273241)
    For sure I would agree with that, the idea that life exists for a reason or purpose is to me connected to the theory of intelligent design. Life exists and that's all we can say. I think it's commonly misunderstood that natural selection is a process with a purpose. It has one only in effect, at the nuts and bolts level evolution is down to *random* genetic mutations, some of which turn out to be more advantageous than others.
  • Re:On grey goo (Score:2, Interesting)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:03AM (#29273271)

    I was very careful to say that solar panels capture more energy. Any estimate of the overall efficiency of such a machine would come with enormous margins of error.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:25AM (#29273461) Homepage Journal

    I'm tired of hearing someone shout... "skynet!" every time there is some advance in... AI

    My fear isn't that machines will become sentient (at least not machines controlled by binary electrical computers), but that people will BELIEVE that these machines, which will be controllable by men, are in fact sentient and grant "machine rights" or some such nonsense.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @11:02AM (#29273751) Journal

    Locomotion is achieved via three vibrating legs, while a fourth horizontal vibrating leg is used as a touch sensor."

    Did anybody else raise an eyebrow at this sentence, finding the notion to be perhaps a bit of a double entendre?

Overload -- core meltdown sequence initiated.