Tiny Linking Robots Share a Central Hive Mind With Each Other

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 - 7:27PM
Technology
Robotics
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 - 7:27PM
Tiny Linking Robots Share a Central Hive Mind With Each Other
YouTube/NPG Press
It's increasingly looking like the future of robotics is going to be modular. Specialized robots are useful for many tasks, but for a more versatile design, engineers are looking into autonomous machines that can dramatically change their shape, size, and layout in order to fulfill a more diverse range of uses.

For many future jobs that require adaptability, the ability for a robot to break down into smaller chunks and rearrange is going to be a big help. A new paper published in Nature Communications, titled Mergeable Nervous Systems for Robots, aims to explore how lots of tiny, individually autonomous robots can link together to form a larger, connected entity that is more than the sum of its parts.

While the resulting robots are still simplistic, they can form together into a larger single robot, and then split back apart into several smaller ones:



Through this process, the robotics experts involved hope to create a sort of hive mind, where each individual part of the team can operate on their own if needs be, but when linked together, they surrender to the larger group consciousness so that they can operate in perfect harmony. According to the paper:

Opening quote
"Understanding which morphology is appropriate to which task and environment is a problem nature solves over millions of years using evolution. Our vision is that, in the future, robots will no longer be designed and built for a particular task. Instead, we will design composable robotic units that give robots the flexibility to autonomously adapt their capabilities, shape and size to changing task requirements."
Closing quote




This kind of modular design is also currently being explored by other teams of scientists, who are looking at ways to be able to adapt the parts within a robot on the fly in order for them to fulfill more functions. Where this new research goes further, is in allowing each individual part of the robot function independently, so that instead of one big robot with interchangeable accessories, a mass of tiny drones can combine to build something larger.

It's the kind of idea that we see regularly within the animal kingdom, especially among ant populations, where tiny workers can come together to form structures where needed, or to function separately from the group when needed in order to overcome obstacles and challenges.

Watching the above video in action, this idea also sounds an awful lot like the microbots from Disney's Big Hero 6:



All in all, the Disney film is a pretty good summary of how fantastic this tech could be, should it advance far enough - seas of tiny little drones could work together to fulfill an unlimited number of roles, from construction, to transportation, to a whole lot more. The best part is just how adaptable this kind of robotic work could become, allowing the "mergeable nervous system" to fit into a niche role with little to no preparation whatsoever.

After all, just because humans can't melt down into a sea of tiny pieces and then shape-shift into a brand new form every time we have a problem to solve, it doesn't mean our robots need to be similarly constrained.
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