‘Particle’ robots don’t do much when they’re on their own, but as an oscillating group, they can be useful because they have no need for centralized control. In this Nature video, interlocking bots change their rhythms based on the intensity of a nearby light.
There are more swarming robots in the archives, including modular, self-assembling robots from EPFL and MIT, A Swarm of Nano Quadrotors, and Can A Thousand Tiny Swarming Robots Outsmart Nature?
The researchers say there are some really distinct advantages to this approach. In theory, robots that work in this way could move through a whole host of environments, even places they’ve never been before. Since they don’t need to assess, plan, or strategize, they can be flexible and essentially just muddle through, adapting in real time.
Also, like a cluster of cells, clusters of particle robots don’t need to be organized in a particular structure or shape to work. They can just sort of move as an amorphous blob.