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Pingpong robots could clean up oil spills

Posted on Dec 17, 08:08AM | IANS

If one robot can accomplish a singular task, then much more could be done with hundreds of them, including cleaning up huge oil spills, shows a study.

Similar to the fictional "nanomorphs" depicted in the "Terminator" films, large swarms of intelligent robots could be used for a range of tasks, said Nikolaus Correll, assistant professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, who led the project.

For instance, their swarms could be unleashed to contain an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware after being launched separately into space, according to an university statement.

Correll and his team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a pingpong ball, which they call "droplets."

Their swarms, Correll said, form a "liquid that thinks".

The team includes Dustin Reishus and research assistant Nick Farrow.

Correll plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviours such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change.

These behaviours could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks.

"Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells," he said.

"Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers."

He also is continuing work on robotic garden technology he developed at the MIT in 2009.

Correll has been working with Joseph Tanner at Colorado-Boulder, to develop the technology, involving sensors and robots that can tend gardens.