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Scientists create robot “blobs” that swarm together for protection

A common creature in California, known as the California black worm, eats microorganisms in ponds and is sometimes kept as tropical fish in aquariums. What is striking about the California black worm is that they mingle in a swarm of tens, hundreds and thousands of centimeters-long creatures. The purpose of the worm blob is to prevent its members from drying out and to help them escape threats such as excessive heat. A group of Georgia Tech researchers created robots that could cluster in a bubble of robots like worms.

The team applied the principles of the self-organizing worm blob to help several simple active robots develop their own locomotion. The team believes that the research results can help robot developers understand how emerging behavior or tangled active matter can produce behaviors driven by unexpected, complex and potentially useful mechanical mechanisms.

Scientists say that studying the bubbles of the worm; they showed through mathematical models and biological experiments that forming bubbles gives worms a kind of collective decision making, allowing worms in a larger bubble to survive longer against desiccation. The researchers found that worms in a bubble survive out of water ten times longer than individual worms.

Worm blobs can range from ten worms to 50,000. For an individual worm, going from hot to cold and surviving is a chance. However, when they move in a bubble, they do so more slowly to coordinate mechanics, and 95% of them can move from the hot to the cold side, showing that the bubble has survival advantages.

The researchers applied the principles observed in the worms to small robotic bubbles made up of intelligent active particles and two 3D-printed robots with two arms and two sensors to allow them to detect light. A mesh wrapper was added to the robots, and pins were added to the arms to allow them to coil like worms. Depending on the intensity of the light, the robots try to move away from it, generating an emergent behavior similar to what was seen in the worms. Interestingly, each robot was doing its own things in a decentralized way, with no communication between them.

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