Thousand-robot swarm self-assembles into complex shapes

split image of starfish and robot swarm

A swarm of more than a thousand tiny robots assembled itself into the shape of a starfish and other complex patterns.

Courtesy of Mike Rubenstein and Science/AAAS

With a set of computerized instructions and flashes of infrared light, up to 1,024 tiny robots organized themselves into the shape of a starfish, the letter K and other complex designs, researchers report August 15 in Science. The robots’ collective behavior mimics the way 100,000 ants quickly build bridges or rafts or thousands of birds move together in a flock. Successfully programming the thousand-bot swarm to coordinate its behavior is a step forward in collective artificial intelligence.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

More Stories from Science News on Computing