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A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes

timothy posted about 4 months ago | from the aaaaaand-improvise! dept.

Robotics 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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"kilobots" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47673769)

What could possibly go wrong?

Re:"kilobots" (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about 4 months ago | (#47673779)

Well, for starter, they typo'd "kilbots"

Gay Sex, Timothy Lord Style (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47673863)

Who wouldn't?

...ME! I don't want AIDS!
 
Please do something worthwhile already. Please FIRE ol' Timothy already, Dice!

HEY MODERATORS! THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47673999)

mod parent up

Re:Gay Sex, Timothy Lord Style (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47674583)

I'd have gay sex with timmyboy. I heard that he likes the "ribbed for her pleasure" ribs on his prostate. He says it feels like sneezing?

Re:"kilobots" (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#47675503)

Well, for starter, they typo'd "kilbots"

Working our way up to Gray Goo armageddon.

They couldn't name them killbots, because (1) Killbots are illegal due to the anti-killbot act, and (2) The name Killbot (TM) has already been trademarked by a large overseas manufacturer who so far declindes to comment on questions about what the upcoming product will be.

Re: "kilobots" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47680243)

We can send wave after wave ....

Re:"kilobots" (1)

Livius (318358) | about 4 months ago | (#47673833)

Is it a thousand killbots with a typo, or one megabots?

Re:"kilobots" (1)

penguinoid (724646) | about 4 months ago | (#47674277)

Neither. It's a kilo-exaggeration (what happens when you exaggerate by a factor of 1000). Also, the individual bots are called Kilobots, because the creators like confusing names.

Re:"kilobots" (1)

Frobnicator (565869) | about 4 months ago | (#47675499)

I also misread at first and needed a double take. If it was 1024 killbots I'd be rather worried.

If they're Futurama killbots we can just throw wave after wave of soliders and police into them until they exceed their kill limit safeties.

If they were more like Terminator killbots, the world would be screwed.

But since they're kilobots rather than killbots, having a kilo of kilobots sounds like fun.

Re:"kilobots" (1)

bentcd (690786) | about 4 months ago | (#47676077)

If it takes 1000 of these little guys to make a composite bot that is actually interesting, then they are in fact millibots.

Which means they're only off by six orders of magnitude.

Re:"kilobots" (1)

VanessaE (970834) | about 4 months ago | (#47674743)

No, that would be a Megatron.

Re: "kilobots" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47673859)

I'm hungry

Re: "kilobots" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47674669)

Just Keep Sg1 IN Speed Dial

Killbots (2)

brunes69 (86786) | about 4 months ago | (#47673797)

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

Now THAT would be interesting!

Re:Killbots (1)

spacepimp (664856) | about 4 months ago | (#47674565)

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

Re:Killbots (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 4 months ago | (#47677673)

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!"

plot from Crichton novel (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about 4 months ago | (#47673867)

Prey?

Re:plot from Crichton novel (1)

freeze128 (544774) | about 4 months ago | (#47673955)

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

Re:plot from Crichton novel (1)

hurfy (735314) | about 4 months ago | (#47674327)

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? (4, Funny)

Bodhammer (559311) | about 4 months ago | (#47673879)

640 kilobots ought to be enough for anybody.

Re:640k? (1)

zooblethorpe (686757) | about 4 months ago | (#47675103)

Imagine a Beowulf cluster...

Oh. Never mind. :-P

On a more serious note, this looks like the beginning of multicellular robotic life. Whee! How long until the grey goo?

Cheers,

Re:640k? (2)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 4 months ago | (#47676007)

My dear, we are the grey goo.

That's-a-lotta-bots-a (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 4 months ago | (#47673889)

A Thousand Kilobots

So that's like, what, 1024000 bots?

Re:That's-a-lotta-bots-a (1)

freeze128 (544774) | about 4 months ago | (#47673947)

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

Re:That's-a-lotta-bots-a (1)

vux984 (928602) | about 4 months ago | (#47674185)

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)

Any two-dimensional shape? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47673907)

Here we have... a sheet!

Here we have... a more different sheet!

Here we have an elongated sheet.

Here we have a sheet with a hole in it!

Re:Any two-dimensional shape? (1)

frisket (149522) | about 4 months ago | (#47673949)

...and here we have a new replicator nanobot...oops

Reminded me of Reedman... (1)

bev_tech_rob (313485) | about 4 months ago | (#47673969)

Kinda reminds me of the Microcons assembling themselves to create ReedMan in "Revenge of the Fallen".. Spooky..

What's the additional challenge here? (1)

sirwired (27582) | about 4 months ago | (#47674009)

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?

Re:What's the additional challenge here? (4, Funny)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 4 months ago | (#47674687)

what was learned by actually building them?

How to successfully apply for grant money.

Re:What's the additional challenge here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47675127)

I probably should have ranked this insightful instead of funny

Re:What's the additional challenge here? (2)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | about 4 months ago | (#47677429)

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.

http://the-paste-tech.blogspot.com/ Technology And (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47674057)

http://the-paste-tech.blogspot.com/
Technology And Gadget Breaking News Aggregator....

Sweet (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about 4 months ago | (#47674095)

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.

"Can't do much" (1)

penguinoid (724646) | about 4 months ago | (#47674227)

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.

Expensive little suckers (3, Informative)

chispito (1870390) | about 4 months ago | (#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.

Why is this better than simulation? (2)

dpbsmith (263124) | about 4 months ago | (#47674505)

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.

Why is this better than simulation? (3, Informative)

sabt-pestnu (967671) | about 4 months ago | (#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 [wikipedia.org] , say), then your simulation simply won't help you find it.

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

Re:Why is this better than simulation? (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | about 4 months ago | (#47676425)

In a simulation you can only test know situations. A practical test shows the situations you missed.

Re:Why is this better than simulation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47676781)

Am I the only one that thinks that this will be used for crowd control in the near future? This example used tiny bots to facilitate the project, but what's to keep police forces from having 1000 large, bulky machines built that have very basic capability (basically just a wall on wheels) that can clear the streets by coordinating across multiple streets and slowly advancing?

Re:Why is this better than simulation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47676977)

Run a ton of them over a field where Police are looking for a dead body with a chem sniffer equipped to smell the traces a corpse sniffing dog does.

Run a bunch of them over your farm to detect the smell of rot and or pesticides put off by the plants themselves to indicate an insect infestation, equip them with water sensors to find gaps in your irrigation setup.

Or my favorite, converted Tamiya Shovel Dozers to shovel snow off your driveway.

Superbowl (1)

DarthVain (724186) | about 4 months ago | (#47677289)

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...

Why not just do a software simulation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47674637)

I can't see anything here that couldn't be achieved through a software simulation?

Re:Why not just do a software simulation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47674839)

groping undergrad co-eds in the lab late at night?

Re:Why not just do a software simulation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47675139)

You don't think we have a software simulator for that?!

That's like software simulation 101.

Re:Why not just do a software simulation? (1)

stepho-wrs (2603473) | about 4 months ago | (#47675987)

From past experience, simulators are great for replicating known scenarios (including a limited set of failure scenarios).
But real, physical things will fail in strange ways that are hard to predict or can be hard to simulate.
Eg, perhaps some of them have a slight tendency to lean to the left (uneven legs during manufacturing), some of them might be intermittently blind on the right side but only when turning right (maybe manufacturing machine leaves a dry joint when soldering the right sensor, not found during stationary testing), parts start to fail intermittently as they age, the vibration of 10 neighbours is enough to cause trouble to one robot equi-distance from them all, etc.

Robot swarms (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47674919)

Sounds scarily like a precursor to StarGate's "replicators"...

i want 1000 robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47675041)

Armed and defending me and my property

The Cyberiad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47675155)

If I recall correctly Stanislav Lem wrote something like this in the "The Cyberiad". A small robots which obtain intelligence only in groups.

Re:The Cyberiad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47676835)

That was "The Invincible"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invincible

Maybe I'll buy them... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47675179)

... when they can look like Carter -- without the pesky evil tendencies.

And "... can achieve complex global behavior from the cooperation of many limited and noisy individuals." -- where I work, we have prior art on "many limited and noisy individuals"... :-|

They've invented Transformers! (1)

markhb (11721) | about 4 months ago | (#47676959)

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

One thousand kilobots? (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 4 months ago | (#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 [slashdot.org] .

Ah! Replicators!!! (1)

kheldan (1460303) | about 4 months ago | (#47677633)

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

Thousandbots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47679863)

A thousand thousandbots?

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