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Dec 16, 2012, 08.27 PM IST | Source: PTI

Tiny ping-pong ball-sized robots to sense danger

A US researcher has developed a swarm of "ping-pong" ball-sized robots which he claims are better than one big machine at accomplishing tasks like cleaning up huge oil spills and sensing danger.

A US researcher has developed a swarm of "ping-pong" ball-sized robots which he claims are better than one big machine at accomplishing tasks like cleaning up huge oil spills and sensing danger. Nikolaus Correll, Assistant Professor at University of Colorado Boulder said if one robot can accomplish a singular task, think how much more could be accomplished if you had hundreds of them.

Correll and his research team developed a basic robotic building block, which he hopes to reproduce in large quantities to develop increasingly complex systems. The team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a pingpong ball, which they call "droplets". When the droplets swarm together, Correll said, they form a "liquid that thinks".

Similar to the fictional "nanomorphs" depicted in the "Terminator" films, large swarms of intelligent robotic devices could be used for a range of tasks. Swarms of robots could be unleashed to contain an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware after being launched separately into space, Correll said.

Correll plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviours such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. These behaviours could then be transferred to large swarms for water or air-based tasks. Correll hopes to create a design methodology for aggregating the droplets into more complex behaviours such as assembling parts of a large space telescope or an aircraft.

Correll says there is virtually no limit to what might be created through distributed intelligence systems. "Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells. Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonise space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers," he said.

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