It was the researchers at the Free University of Brussels who got the machines to decide how best to group together to perform various tasks, thereby creating modular robots capable of taking forms according to need.
One of the authors of the project, Anders Lyhne Christensen, from ISCTE-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, told Lusa that the machines “communicate at various levels and modules may be larger or smaller”.
The authors of the study, published in the journal Nature, have been able to build robots with wheels, which can, however, use other means of locomotion, which bind to each other and create “a single robot with a body that responds to what it recognizes in world” and that is capable of “feeling the world and making decisions”.
These small modules attach to each other and can take various forms, which are decided by one of the modules, programmed to be the “brain” of the whole set.
In the study, the authors claim that they approach “robots that can autonomously change their size, shape and function”, properties that “go beyond any existing machine or biological organism”.
Anders Lyhne Christensen also said that in the experiments carried out in Brussels, the robot composed of the various units was changed to better adapt to the obstacles, or to tasks such as carrying a volume.
When separated, all modules have the capacity to be “brain” and when the “body” detects that one of the modules is damaged, because it does not emit signals to communicate with the others, it can eject it from the assembly and replace it with another module healthy.
Regarding future applications of this type of systems, Anders Lyhne Christensen projected that they could be used in health, for example, with tiny robots circulating in the bloodstream, able to unite to perform surgical procedures and progress through the human body in various forms different, according to the task and the environment that surrounds them.