0834 GMT January 20, 2018
These robots can latch onto one another and link up their individual ‘nervous systems’ — the network of connections between their computer processors, cameras, wheels and other gadgetry — to create a single-minded machine, sciencenews.org reported.
The composite robots, reported in Nature Communications, pave the way for a new generation of machines that can change their shape on the fly.
Study coauthor Marco Dorigo, an engineer at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, said, “In previous robots made up of many smaller machines, each robotic building block maintained control over its own nervous system.
“It was a little bit like if we had a bunch of people joining together to do something.
“They were trying to coordinate by exchanging messages with neighbors without anyone being in charge.”
These multi-bodied robots could link up to create different shapes, unlike solo devices. But the lack of centralized control meant the robot collectives were clumsier and had slower reaction times than stand-alone bots.
The collective robot bodies created by Dorigo and colleagues, however, are helmed by a single member of the group, which the researchers dubbed the ‘brain unit’.
That robot collects sensory data from all the others and controls their operations via Wi-Fi.
Dorigo said, “This centralized decision makes sensory-motor control much more efficient.”
Dorigo’s team built 13 robots, which could self-assemble into several arrangements, such as plier-like and salamander-esque shapes.
Future robots with this ability to continually reconfigure themselves may be better at navigating different types of terrain, fitting through small openings and performing a wider range of tasks than solo robots with fixed body shapes.
These Roomba-like robots latch onto each other with metal clasps and merge their ‘nervous systems’ to become bigger, centrally controlled bots of various shapes and sizes.