These Robots Work Together to Achieve a Common Task

20 September 2017

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When you hear the word robots, you probably think of giant metal creatures moving awkwardly around the room — or falling over instead of reaching their target. A new design is hoping to change that stereotype by creating robots that are smaller than your smartphone but can do amazing things. These little bots can work together to achieve a common goal, working independently. What did it take to create these little hive robots and what can they do?

Mind Melding Robots

The mind meld is something made famous by Star Trek — a skill that some Vulcans have to sync their thoughts with someone else's. That is how these little robots can work toward a common purpose — when they have a task to complete, they sync together to become individual pieces of one organism, instead of singular robots.

This isn't a new concept — robots with singular nervous systems have been attempted before, but those centralized processing units tend to be weak and unable to support the actions needed to complete the tasks. That's where this system differs.

Each robot is capable of functioning on its own, but when a task appears too large for just one of the robots to complete, they can join together to accomplish the job before reverting to their own individual tasks.

Instead of having a single rigid nervous system, these robots can create a system that grows or shrinks as needed.

This design is still in its infancy — each robot still has to be programmed to instruct it how to integrate as part of the whole — but this flexible nervous system could provide limitless possibilities for the future of small bots and even nanorobotics.

Self-Healing Machinery

Replacing the pieces of a defective machine often requires trial and error — you have to work your way through all the commonly known failure points and just hope that one of them fixes the problem. One of the greatest assets of these new little robots is their ability to theoretically self-heal. Once a fault has been detected in one of their number, these robots can reconfigure to replace the faulty component. Even the central unit can be replaced and all necessary data will transfer to another robot in the chain.

The Future Is Machine Learning

Right now, each of these little robots still has to be programmed in a specific way. This could change soon with the use of machine learning.

As its name suggests, machine learning allows robots and other programs to learn in the same way that humans do — using their environment and experiences to change how they react to the world. Tesla's autopilot feature is an example of this. If one Tesla encounters an obstacle in the road, a new traffic pattern or new construction, that information gets stored in the car's computer.  From there it can be uploaded to a server and later downloaded into all other Teslas, allowing each car to learn and grow from the experiences of its peers.

These new robots could use this same kind of machine learning template. The central ‘brain' unit could become a hub for the data collected by each individual robot. Every time the individual bots sync with the brain unit, they would be able to download this new information, growing smarter and more efficient with each download.

These robots are just starting out, but their potential is limitless. This sort of technology could potentially head out into the solar system as well — self-healing robots would be ideal for hostile environments that are too far away for us to reach with a tech support team. We can't wait to see what they do next! 

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