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Last updated at 12:24 BST, Friday, 15 August 2014

Insect-inspired robots

Summary

15 August 2014

Engineers in the US have created a group of more than 1,000 identical robots. Using a system modelled on insects, the 'Kilobots' work together to arrange themselves into a variety of shapes. The research was published in the journal Science.

Reporter:

Jonathan Webb

Bees

Bees are 'social insects' which work together

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Report

The largest swarm of robots in the world lives on a table in a lab at Harvard University.

Each about the size of a sushi roll, with three spindly legs, the robots are all loaded with the same programme and given a simple black-and-white picture.

When all 1,000 are given the 'go' signal, individual robots shuffle slowly around the edge of the swarm, communicating via blinking infra-red lights.

Once they're in an acceptable position inside the required shape, they stop.

Tested on three different shapes, the robots took up to 12 hours to form each one.

But their record-breaking display of teamwork, inspired by insect behaviour, is a step towards more ambitious robotic swarms, which could sweep disaster sites or clean up polluted environments.

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Vocabulary

swarm

a large group (usuaully of insects) which moves together

spindly

long, thin and delicate

shuffle

(here) to move around slowly and without much energy

blinking

flashing on and off

teamwork

the ability to work together as a team

sweep

(here) to move quickly across an area, searching for things