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Robotics Technology

A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes 56

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at Harvard's Self-Organizing Systems Research Group—describe their thousand-robot swarm in a paper published today in Science (they actually built 1024 robots). In the past, researchers have only been able to program at most a couple hundred robots to work together. Now, these researchers have programmed the biggest robot swarm yet. Alone, the simple little robot can't do much, but working with 1,000 or more like-minded fellow bots, it becomes part of a swarm that can self-assemble into any two-dimensional shape. These are some of the first steps toward creating huge herds of tiny robots that form larger structures—including bigger robots."
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A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes

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  • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Thursday August 14, 2014 @06:17PM (#47673797) Homepage

    I mis-read and thought this said "A Thousand Killbots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes..."

    Now THAT would be interesting!

    • You aren't alone. It reads like the beginning of a sci-fi novel.

    • Or it would be the world's most boring version of Voltron.

      "I'll assemble a third of the lower left third of the pinky!"
      "I'll assemble the upper tip of the ear!"
      "I'll assemble the middle of the right elbow!"

    • I wouldn't worry until they at least start to conquer a third dimension. These little bots just jiggle around on the floor.
      • by hurfy ( 735314 )

        lol, I think you'll still be ok for bit. It took them 11 hours to make the letter K. It would take them days just to cuss at you. To make something threatening would take... way longer than anyone is going hang around and keep them charged.

        On the other hand...I'll take a set as cat toys. See how long they can hold the shape of a mouse :)

        6-12 hours per formation....there is probably a good reason everyone uses virtual ones.

  • 640k? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bodhammer ( 559311 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @06:27PM (#47673879)
    640 kilobots ought to be enough for anybody.
  • A Thousand Kilobots

    So that's like, what, 1024000 bots?

    • If they have 1024 bots that can assemble into a shape, then the bots should millibots (one onethousandth of a shape).
      • by vux984 ( 928602 )

        More accurate would be to say that each bot is 1 millishape, and a kilobot is one shape.

        A millibot would be a thousandth of a bot, not of a thousandth of a shape.

        For example, if you join a football team then you are 1/nth of a football team, but we don't say generally say that makes you 1 nth of a human... (some might of course, but usually they have a pretty low opinion of football players and jocks in general)

  • Kinda reminds me of the Microcons assembling themselves to create ReedMan in "Revenge of the Fallen".. Spooky..
  • Other than the fact that fabricating that many 'bots is painful and expensive, what makes this different from The Game of Life (albeit with an algorithm that takes more than a couple of lines.) I just don't see how this is any different from running a simulation of robots forming "any 2-D shape"... what was learned by actually building them?

    • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:25PM (#47674687)

      what was learned by actually building them?

      How to successfully apply for grant money.

    • I think they're building these robots to solve the problem of how to make these robots. A pixel in a game of Life is easy to maintain -- it has an x,y coordinate and immediately knows all its neighbor's positions. A robot has to identify all its neighbors and then localize itself using infrared and communication time lags. That's a challenge. The only way to meet that challenge is to build the robots and figure out how to make them work.

  • Well we almost have the ammo, now we just need DARPA to work on our Empees to fire it. Although hopefully we can find something better than a spandex unitard as a uniform/battle armor.
  • Alone, the simple little robot can't do much, but working with 1,000 or more like-minded fellow bots, it becomes part of a swarm that can self-assemble into any two-dimensional shape.

    I'm pretty sure this means that working with 1,000 or more like-minded fellow bots, it still can't do much.

  • by chispito ( 1870390 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @07:40PM (#47674407)
    I remember, as TFA mentions, these wondrous little $14 robots. Except if you're not Harvard, the distributors are charging about $125 for each one, and hundreds more for the programmer and charger.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @07:53PM (#47674505) Homepage

    It's sort of cool, I guess, but I don't see the benefit of actually building physical robots rather than running a simulation. What has been achieved in the real world doesn't seem to have any practical application, even as an advertising gimmick or a work of sculpture.

    I can't imagine sending out 100,000 of these gadget to do the half-time show at a football game, for example.

    I didn't sense that this was just the beginning and that the same devices that self-assemble predetermined shapes could, with more advance software, harvest wheat or perform laser surgery.

    When they reach the point where the simulated behavior actually has some real-world utility, THEN it makes sense to build them.

    • by sabt-pestnu ( 967671 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:25PM (#47674691)

      The difference between theory and practice is
      - in theory, there is no difference
      - in practice, there is.

      A simulation of self-assembling robots is theory.
      An actual pile of 1,024 self-assembling robots is practice.

      Less tritely, you have zero information about flaws in your simulation until you try to apply it to/in the real world. Your simulation is excellent at helping you identify logical flaws in your design. But if you fail to account for something (crosswinds [], say), then your simulation simply won't help you find it.

      It's that whole "unknown unknowns" thing, man.

    • In a simulation you can only test know situations. A practical test shows the situations you missed.
    • Pretty sure if you send in 100,000 autonomous robots to form into geometric shapes at a football game, they will more less instantly spontaneously evolve into deadly killing machines bent on the destruction of humankind...

  • Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these babies! (Sorry, I'm still on a retro kick.)

  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @10:21AM (#47677391)

    Is it one thousand kilobots (1000000) or one thousand killbots (1000) or one thousand kibibots (1024000)?

    In the article they say it's 1024 bots, so whoever typed that title is probably smoking supercapacitors [].

  • Somebody stop them, they're developing Replicators! Remember Stargate: SG1? Took them bloody forever to defeat the goddamn things!

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"