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These cell-inspired robots can swarm together to move toward the light

The robots are inspired by the way cells travel through the bloodstream to wounds to assist with healing. 

How it works: The 25-strong cluster comprises disc-shaped robots, each equipped with magnets around the edges and cogs so they can “stick” to their neighbor. They can only move in two ways: by expanding or contracting. When carefully timed, this motion lets the individual robots push and pull one another to achieve coordinated movement. The robots, described in a paper in Nature this week, are also equipped with sensors that let them detect and then gravitate toward light sources.

Benefits: By working together in this way, the robots can navigate around obstacles, squeeze through gaps, and keep on working even when individual units malfunction. The promise of robotic “swarms” is that they can be responsive, flexible, and robust, the researchers said. A similar paper in December 2018 showing how robots can autonomously swarm by communicating with each other using infrared.

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