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- [Narrator] A team of researchers
from MIT, Columbia, Cornell, and Harvard Universities
has developed computationally simple robots
that connect in large groups to move around,
transport objects and complete other tasks.
Made of plastic, magnets and basic electronics
each robot in this so called "particle robotics" system
is almost static when isolated.
Designed only to expand and contract.
But when you put a number of these robots together
they move in time and the system becomes
much more robust.
- We are interested in developing
the science of autonomy.
Particularly when multiple robots work together.
And for this reason we designed a robot we call
the particle robot.
The robot is actually inspired by the idea
that natural organisms have cells.
And these cells connect together
and work together to form larger organisms.
And what we would like to do with these robots
is study the mechanisms, the principles,
and the algorithms that enable
these robots to come together to form
larger structures that are mobile,
that can be used to perform tasks.
- [Narrator] Because of their circular shape,
individual robotic particles can assemble into
many configurations and fluidly navigate
around obstacles, squeeze through tiny gaps,
and move things along.
Uniquely, none of the individual robots
or particles as the researchers refer to them,
directly communicate or rely on each other to function.
So particles can be added or subtracted
without any impact on the larger group.
- So each of the robots we designed
has these magnetic connectors,
which will allow multiple particles
to connect together at any orientation.
And each of the robot can expand and contract.
- And so by making and breaking connections
and employing expansion and contraction,
an individual module is able to help move
an entire system of particles in the desired direction.
- [Narrator] Traditionally, robots are designed
for one purpose, comprise many complex parts,
and stop working when any part malfunctions.
Robots such as these could enable more scalable,
flexible and robust systems.
- In our future work we plan
to add sensors to this robot to detect
the pushing and pulling force of each particle.
And we also plan to build a new system
made of much smaller particles.
- [Narrator] One day they hope to have
robotic cells that can be assembled in different ways
to make different robots.
And perhaps even contain the ability
to develop themselves. As the systems goals change
it's body could change too.
(upbeat piano music)