(Nanowerk News) Bristlebots are robots without sensors or brains that do things that robots without sensors or brains do. As it turns out, this is a lot more than you might expect, since researchers at Harvard have shown that if you stick enough of them in a small space, they self-organize into swarms.
The collective ability of organisms to move coherently in space and time is ubiquitous in any group of autonomous agents that can move and sense each other and the environment. In new work ("Swarming, swirling and stasis in sequestered bristle-bots"), researchers from Harvard University investigate the origin of collective motion and its loss using macroscopic self-propelled bristle-bots, simple automata made from a toothbrush and powered by an onboard cell phone vibrator-motor, that can sense each other through shape-dependent local interactions, and can also sense the environment non-locally via the effects of confinement and substrate topography.
The team shows that when bristle-bots are confined to a limited arena with a soft boundary, increasing the density drives a transition from a disordered and uncoordinated motion to organized collective motion either as a swirling cluster or a collective dynamical stasis.
This transition is regulated by a single parameter, the relative magnitude of spinning and walking in a single automaton. The scientists explain this using quantitative experiments and simulations that emphasize the role of the agent shape, environment and confinement via boundaries.
The study shows how the behavioural repertoire of these physically interacting automatons controlled by one parameter translates into the mechanical intelligence of swarms.