Researchers Develop Coordinated Particle Robotics System


A team of researchers successfully made robots that have their own roles into one group to form a particle robot system / Photo by: Berndporr via Wikimedia Commons


A team of researchers from the United States has built computationally simple robots that can be linked in large groups to move, transport objects, and execute other tasks. They are collectively called a "particle robotics system."

The development was based on a collaborative project that involved researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Cornell University, and Harvard University. According to MIT News, the system is made up of many individual disc-shaped units that are called "particles."

Magnets surrounding their perimeters connect the particles in a loose hold, with each unit being able to do only two things: expand and contract. When carefully timed, that motion enables each of the particles to push and pull one another in coordinated movement, MIT News said, and sensors installed on them allows the cluster to move toward sources of light.

The researchers demonstrated a cluster of 24 absolute robotic particles, as well as a virtual simulation of up to 100,000 particles that move through obstacles toward a light bulb, based on a paper published on Nature. A particle robot was also shown to be capable of moving objects that blocked its path. The particle robotics system was also able to complete tasks despite many of its parts experiencing malfunctions.

“We have small robot cells that are not so capable as individuals but can accomplish a lot as a group,” said roboticist Daniela Rus, one of the researchers who worked on the project.

“The robot by itself is static, but when it connects with other robot particles, all of a sudden the robot collective can explore the world and control more complex actions."

Rus added that with the "universal cells," the particles will be able to achieve various shapes, global transformation, motion, behavior, and follow light sources as demonstrated in their experiment. "This is very powerful.”

The collaborative paper represents an innovative way to regard robots, which are usually built for a single purpose, made up of complex parts, and will stop working when a single part malfunctions. The researchers say robots comprised of simplistic components could allow more expandable, flexible, and robust systems.