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Robot Flash Mob a Step in Collective Artificial Intelligence (Video)

By Clyde Hughes   |   Monday, 18 Aug 2014 09:32 AM

A robot flash mob of self-organizing machines guided by a computer scientist could represent a significant milestone in developing collective artificial intelligence, according to Harvard University.

The Kilobots were created by Radhika Nagpal at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and is discussed in detail in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. The tiny robots, which can arrange themselves en masse on command, mimics how some cells organize to create an intelligent organism, according to a Harvard statement.

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"The beauty of biological systems is that they are elegantly simple — and yet, in large numbers, accomplish the seemingly impossible," Nagpal said in the statement. "At some level you no longer even see the individuals; you just see the collective as an entity to itself."

About 1,000 tiny robots first formed a sea star shape on command and then rearranged to form the letter "K" on command as well, showing how each robot worked together to develop to develop the shape, self-correcting without additional guidance.

"Biological collectives involve enormous numbers of cooperating entities — whether you think of cells or insects or animals — that together accomplish a single task that is a magnitude beyond the scale of any individual," said lead author Michael Rubenstein, a research associate at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

The robots are made from a simple design, according to the scientists, using infrared transmitters and receivers to communicate with each other, according to CBS News. But because of their simplicity, it brings some limitations.

"These robots are much simpler than many conventional robots, and as a result, their abilities are more variable and less reliable," Rubenstein told CBS News. "For example, the Kilobots have trouble moving in a straight line, and the accuracy of distance sensing can vary from robot to robot."

In February, a Harvard team created a set of small robots that can handle task that could be too dangerous for humans, such as building underwater research stations or building structures in space, according to CBS News.

Those robot mimics the movements and task of African termites and how they construct their complex communities.

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