Hive minds: How "swarm robots" are learning from insects

In particular, one area where life seems to be imitating art is the fledgling field of ‘swarm robotics’, in which scientists are creating teams of robots that can work together toward a single goal — from mending a leak to clearing mines — with minimal or no input from humans.

Much of the research is based on the observed behavior of ‘eusocial’ insects — such as ants, bees and termites — who work collectively on complex tasks without central management or higher order intelligence. …

Recently, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) unveiled ‘M-blocks’ – robots that can assemble themselves into different shapes to perform a range of basic tasks, without input from a human controller.

While M-Blocks may not look particularly inspiring, the way they reshape is the first step toward a future where robots rebuild themselves to solve new problems. An M-Blocks-based robot working underwater might make itself narrow to fit through a deep sea crevasse, or a tiny team of medical robots could spread themselves flat to plug a gap in the human heart — all without having been pre-programmed to do so.