Researchers at Northwestern University have been working on making self-organizing robots that figure out how to efficiently arrange themselves into patterns. The problems are what you’d imagine – you tell 100 kids to form a shape like a marching band on a field, and they’re going to bump into each other, and some number of kids are gonna run across the field from one end to the other, right?

What’s interesting here is that the bots trade instructions to avoid inefficient travel to a target position, and they communicate with each other to avoid bumping into each other.

They use a master base communication to get the main instruction, and then a layer 2 network to communicate between robots. Earlier research had as many as 1000 robots. That turns out to be a nightmare to manage in a development environment (maintaining, flashing, upgrading). The IEEE Spectrum has a full interview with the researchers if you’d like to learn more.

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