IEEE Spectrum

Simple Stochastic Robots Use Their Randomness to Achieve More Complex Goals

The idea behind swarm robots is to replace discrete, expensive, breakable uni-tasking components with a whole bunch of much simpler, cheaper, and replaceable robots that can work together to do the same sorts of tasks. Unfortunately, all of those swarm robots end up needing their own computing and communications and stuff if you want to get them to do what you want them to do. 

A different approach to swarm robotics is to use a swarm of much cheaper robots that are far less intelligent. In fact, they may not have to be intelligent at all, if you can rely on their physical characteristics to drive them instead. These swarms are “stochastic,” meaning that their motions are randomly determined, but if you’re clever and careful, you can still get them to do specific things.   

Georgia Tech has developed some little swarm robots called “smarticles” that can’t really do much at all on their own, but once you put them together into a jumble, their randomness can actually accomplish something.

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