Now then: What could possibly go wrong? Excerpt:
Swarms of cooperative robots conjure images of a dystopian nightmare world in which humanity is clinging to the final threads of its survival. In reality, autonomously cooperative robots are smaller, more helpful, and a whole lot cuter.
Dr. Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin at the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame and Professor Daniel Goldman at the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology have crafted a crew of ant-like machines capable of calling for help and completing complex tasks without additional guidance from programmers.
Many of the robots currently in use are designed for specific purposes or terrains, and have limitations based on their design structures. For instance, wheeled robots commonly used in space exploration, are good for the sorts of hard packed, mostly flat terrain they’re likely to encounter, but might struggle in wooded areas here on Earth. Additionally, they might be limited in what areas they can explore and what tasks they can complete, based on their size or carrying capacity.
Ozkan-Aydin and Goldman set out to solve this problem by developing small machines which link up to increase their collective strength or mobility, using ants as a model organism.
“We look to biological systems like animals because they have amazing capabilities,” Ozkan-Aydin told SYFY WIRE. “Ants, for instance, are very simple individuals, but when they come together you get intelligent behavior. It’s up to us to look at the ability of biological systems and figure out how they do what they do.”
My second reaction to this is, “How could this go horribly wrong?”
I can think of one application in which robot swarms like this might be useful, and that is space exploration – or even exploitation. Picture a swarm of tiny robots going into the asteroid belt, detecting and extracting sources of valuable metals and sending them on a trajectory that places them in Earth orbit for retrieval. Or a swarm of bots pre-building shelters and other structures on Mars.
Sure, there’s a chance that the AI controlling these bots might go south, and we’ll all end up in puddles of amorphous gray glue. But controlled, non-AI bots – well, I still think it’s cool.