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Harvard scientists develop 'self-organising' robot swarm

The Harvard school of engineering and applied sciences (SEAS) have created the "first thousand-robot flash mob." The swarm consists of 1,024 "kilobots" that collaborate and provide "a simple platform for the enactment of complex behaviours."

Michael Rubenstein, a research associate at SEAS, said "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."

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After a basic instruction from a computer scientist, the kilobots use a simple algorithm to enact the instruction, "similar to a flock of birds." The kilobots once given an instruction do not require any human input to complete the task.

A blogpost on the SEAS website reveals how these kilobots complete their goal, "once an initial set of instructions has been delivered. Four robots mark the origin of a coordinate system, all the other robots receive a 2D image that they should mimic, and then using very primitive behaviors—following the edge of a group, tracking a distance from the origin, and maintaining a sense of relative location—they take turns moving towards an acceptable position."

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Although currently only able to produce 2D shapes Radhika Nagpal, professor of computer science at SEAS and creator of the swarm, outlined her hopes for the project envisioning ", hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways."