Check out the largest robot swarm ever

Think of how much fun kittens would have if these robots were the size of Roombas.

In what looks like a super-sized version of the vintage electric football game, scientists at Harvard University have revealed what they say is the largest robot swarm ever.

Unlike the game, which used a vibrating surface to cause the “players” to move, these 1,024 coin-sized robots move under their own direction while working together.

Writer Marcus Woo describes the project in “Wired”:

These are some of the first steps toward creating huge herds of tiny robots that form larger structures — including bigger robots. Building swarming robots can also help scientists understand collective behavior seen in nature, from bird flocks and fish schools to networks of cells and neurons.

It takes hours, but eventually the robots form predetermined shapes on the table. It’s the first step, scientists say, toward developing larger, self-assembling robots made up of their smaller constituents. Woo writes:

[Mike Rubenstein, the roboticist who led the research team, says] these tiny robots can act as biological cells, forming the building blocks for bigger, shape-shifting robots. The idea is that such a robot could take whatever shape is best suited for a particular task.

It could assume the shape of a snake to slither across sand, form legs to crawl over rock, or even a wheel to roll up and down a hill. A swimming robot could become more aerodynamic to slice through water. It could even split into two if the task requires it.

And, these collective robots would be easily fixed, since ideally every one of the tiny robots would be cheap and replaceable.

All of these innovations are probably a long way off. But you can get started now.

(H/T Paul Wenzel, Minnesota Public Radio web developer)