How small is the smallest robot worth worrying about?
Set aside the massive drones and surveillance platforms, the autonomy-enable aerostats and mostly on autopilot aircraft. Think even smaller than the ground robots and quadcopters that fill shelves in stores. If we want to look at the future of miniature machines, we need to narrow our focus, down to a few centimeters.
Like these little mindless machines, vibrating bundles of legs and wires and batteries.
What’s happening here? From Phys.org:
Robots moving to the edges of a container is neat but lacking in practical applications. So to see what this sorting effect could do, the researchers then put the robots in a flexible corral. Now, the robots, behaving just as they were before, could move the corral through obstacles, like this.
These robots give researchers a way to study how insects and microbes execute complex movements, and the principles studied may influence future design of even tinier robots designed to work inside biological systems (read: bodies). That’s interesting enough, but for our purposes, this is also a way to look at the kinds of emergent behavior in a swarm done without any communication or control.
Like so many fingers on a Ouija board, these robots navigate an obstacle course in a way that looks supernaturally directed, yet it as most the cumulative effort of many undirected nudges. As the Pentagon further explores autonomous technologies, and ways to maneuver in communications-denied environments, robots like this are collectively navigating one path forward. And doing it all without anything resembling so much as a sensor or a brain.