Rowing Robots

Do ROBOTS of a feather… flock together?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Wildebeest over the serengeti, sardines in the sea – many animals move seamlessly together in herds. But, we humans have a hard time not bumping into others at the grocery store! How are large groups of animals so in sync?

Chun-Jen Chen and colleagues at the University of Konstanz investigated! They made TINY glass robots that swim through liquid, moved by a laser. A computer kept track of the steering for all the robots at once! They avoided bumping into each other, and moved based on where the center of the swarm was. Just like typical schools of fish! 

Then the researchers introduced a mock predator to the environment.

How did the robo-fish respond? Although individuals kept circling, COLLECTIVELY, the school moved away! Even when the lasers only make HALF of the robots flee, the group can still escape! 

How? Inattentive bots still respond to the movement of the herd. It’s like “ALL SWIM” time at the local pool!

The researchers think that understanding group movement can improve tasks that use “swarms” of robots!

Looks like it pays to follow the herd!

Reference: Chen, C.-J., & Bechinger, C. (2022). Collective response of microrobotic swarms to external threats. New Journal of Physics, 24(3), 033001.