The term "gray goo", a robot of billions of nanoparticles, has fascinated science fiction fans for decades. But most scientists have dismissed it as just a wild theory.
Current robots are usually self-contained units made up of interdependent sub-components, each with a particular function. If some fail, the robot stops working. In robotic swarms, each robot is an independent machine.
In a new study published today Nature researchers at Columbia Engineering and MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) for the first time demonstrate a way to make a robot composed of many loosely coupled components, or "particles." Unlike swarms or modular robots, each component is simple and has no individual address or identity. In their system, which the scientists call a "particle robot", each particle can perform only uniform volumetric oscillations (weakly expanding and contracting), but cannot move independently.
The team led by Hod Lipson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia Engineering and CSAIL Director Daniela Rus discovered that when they grouped thousands of these particles together into a "sticky" cluster and made them turn in response to a light source, the entire particle robot slowly moving forward toward the light.
"You can think of our new robot as the proverbial" Gray Goo, "says Lipson." Our robot has no single troubleshooting and no centralized control. It is still quite primitive, but now we know that this basic robot paradigm is actually possible. We think it can even explain how groups of cells can move together, although some cells cannot. "
Scientists have built autonomous robots for more than a century, but these have been non-biological machines that cannot grow, heal, or recover from damage. The Columbia Engineering / MIT team has been focused on developing robust scalable robots that can work even when the individual components fail.
"We have tried to fundamentally reconsider our approach to robotics to discover if there is a way to make robots different," says Lipson, who heads Creative Machines laboratory. " Not just make a robot look like a biological being, but actually construct it as a biological system, to create something that is great in complexity and abilities that are yet composed of fundamentally simple parts. "
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The team that cooperated with Chuck Hoberman at Harvard's Wyss Institute and other researchers at Cornell, used many similar components or particles that could perform a simple movement as expansion and contraction In simulations, the robots comprising 100,000 particles demonstrated Experimental, they showed a system of two dozen particles. "" The particles closer to the light source experience brighter light and thus start their cycle earlier, "Shuguang Li, the first author of the paper who conducted the physical experiments, explains Li. postdoctoral fellow in Lipson's former laboratory in Cornell and currently a postdoc with Rus at CSAIL, continues. "This movement creates a kind of wave throughout the cluster from them closer to the light farther away and that wave makes the whole cluster move toward the light . The movement towards light creates a global movement, although the individual particles cannot move independently. "
Modeling of this behavior in simulations explored obstruction barrier and object transport in larger scales with hundreds and thousands of particles, as well as demonstrating the resilience of their particle robot paradigm to both noisy components and individual failure.
" We found that our particle robots maintained approx. half of their fully operational speed, although 20 percent of the particles are dead, "says Richa Batra, first author of the paper and Lipson's graduate student who led the simulation studies.
The team is already testing their system with a larger one number of particles in cm-scale. They also examine other types of particle robots, such as vibrating microspheres. "" We think it will be possible one day to make these robots from millions of small particles like microbeads corresponding to s ound or light or chemical gradient, "says Lipson." Such robots can be used to do things that clean up or explore unknown terrain / structures. "
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v wrDdqjQvaoA =