Vid Robot boffins have trained a swarm of mini-machines to work together, finding each other and grouping together to carry out simple tasks.
The 40-strong Robot Swarm Inspired by Nature (see video above) can fetch and carry much larger objects by working together like ants. They can also regroup after being scattered across the room and organise themselves by order of priority.
The medical benefits of a programmable group of nanobots are pretty obvious, but the swarm could also have military applications such as search and rescue operations in areas that are dangerous for human. The robots could even be put to use in manufacturing facilities.
"We are developing artificial intelligence to control robots in a variety of ways," Dr Roderich Gross, head of the Natural Robotics Lab at the University of Sheffield, said.
"The key is to work out what is the minimum amount of information needed by the robot to accomplish its task. That’s important because it means the robot may not need any memory, and possibly not even a processing unit, so this technology could work for nanoscale robots; for example, in medical applications."
In the swarm, the amount that each robot needs to "know" is actually quite small. For example, if the nanobots are trying to group, they only need to figure out if there is another nanobot in front of them. If there isn't, then the robot has orders to move in a wider circle until it finds one. ®