Anders Lyhne Christensen - researcher at IT-IUL - conceived and formulated the initial idea of the mergeable nervous system (MNS). He co-authored an article on how various robots can interact through a sensory-motor control system that responds to induced stimuli and enables the machines to be able to autonomously adapt their shape and size.
With this new study, these properties are shown in robots that go beyond those observed in any machine or biological organism, being able to unify in a single body, split into several robots with independent controllers, or even 'self-heal' by removing or replacing parts of a malfunctioning body.
The work developed by this team is pioneering because it is the first self-assembled multirobot system - capable of displaying sensorimotor coordination equivalent to that observed in monolithic robots. The rules are designed manually in several robotic units that form a series of robots of different shapes and sizes that will obey stimuli. The capacity of morphological adaptation stands out particularly, with the necessary flexibility to form new robots of different shapes and sizes, and the existence of an autonomous 'brain' unit capable of decision-making.
Anders Lyhne Christensen answered some questions on the subject to help us understand the importance of this breakthrough.
How useful is this tool, its importance and impact in today's society?
A. L. C. Traditionally, robots have been relatively simple machines performing repetitive, mechanical work. However, as robots move out of isolated, structured factory floors and into the unstructured world that humans occupy, they need to become flexible and adaptive. Our work is a significant step towards adaptive robots with respect to their body size, shape and function.
What kind of functions can these robots perform?
A. L. C. Currently, they cannot do much beyond forming new bodies, moving, sensing and pushing objects. However, the long-term perspectives for the technology is that, at one point, you go to a supermarket and buy a bag of robotic modules that would be able to build whichever robot you would need: to do the dishes, the modules would form one type of robot, to unclog the sink, they would form another, if you want them to paint a wall, they would form yet another, and if you child fancies a dog, they could form a dog-shaped robot that she could interact with.
Can we explain this system with the allusion to the Terminator II movie, with the liquid metal robot?
A. L. C. Given that Hollywood often portrays robots as being evil, such as the programmed liquid robot in Terminator II, after some consideration, I would suggest leaving any comparison out of the press release so as to avoid any misunderstandings.
View the article at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-00109-2