back to article What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this

Harvard University computer scientists have built a 1,000-strong robot army that can form itself into shapes with little human input. KIlobots And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords (click to enlarge) The machines, dubbed kilobots because there are 1,024 of them, each contain an Atmel micrcontroller, two …

  1. BlueGreen

    All very good but...

    ... did anyone else look at the bots and immediately think they resemble Minions off Despicable Me?

    Edit: just a bit of yellow and they'd be perfect.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: All very good but...

      Ha! I was thinking the same thing!

  2. Colin Brett

    I thought it was just chimps that could push pianos around.


  3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    It loooks like their "life" rules are:

    If I am surrounded, stay where I am

    else if I'm not being illuminated, make a small random movement

    1. Truth4u

      I don't think it's random, they follow the edge of the shape round to the right place.

  4. alwarming

    Why 2^N ?

    I would think that a fibonacci sequence would work better with creating a more complex super-bot.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why 2^N ?

      Because 1024 allows you to name them killobots?

  5. harmjschoonhoven

    Just a personal feeling

    The video of the moving kilobots gives me the same itchy feelings as looking at an anthill.

    1024 must be above some critical number.

    1. The Mole

      Re: Just a personal feeling

      I agree about the itchy feeling, then I looked at how long in real time these images took to make.

      I'm not currently worried about a swarm of robots that can form a shape in little under 12 hours!

  6. Winkypop Silver badge


    Make them a bit bigger and balance a beer on top.

    Automated bar staff!

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: Now

      Just so long as it doesn't take 12 hours to deliver my beer!

      1. samlebon2306

        Re: Now

        "Just so long as it doesn't take 12 hours to deliver my beer!"

        It depends of where you're seated. If you are right in the middle, good luck for you.

    2. samlebon2306

      Re: Now

      "Automated bar staff!"

      Or a mega McDonald.

  7. mark 63 Silver badge

    so whats gained by doing this in hardware rather than software?

    I can see whats lost - money, time, energy, hardware and space.

    advances in rigid leg shuffling technology maybe

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      While you are essentially correct in that these could have been modelled in software, and doubtless the initial basic programming was, it is only through creating the physical devices and letting them roam that all of the foibles, annoyances and damn stupid gotchas really come out. This real learning is then fed back into the software model which can be refined and then (typically) pushed out to the physical devices for the next tests. Upgrading the software on a few devices is usually annoying, 1k of them very much so.

      1. 2460 Something

        I suspect that these have already had numerous iterations in software before making it to a physical prototype. As for updating them, I would also suspect that they have a common wireless interface to blitz the entire lot at once. This is in a confined, controlled area. Security would not be as prevalent as usability at this point. Of course that just makes it easier for the nefarious megalomaniac to take control of his robot army.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Even with a common wireless interface, successfully updating all of them and verifying that the updates have all been applied to each of them isn't going to be a fun task. Having worked with mass update devices (admittedly the last production devices was a rather badly designed IR update process, the next gen were wireless or wired), there are always some devices that just fail to update and identifying and tracking down these devices makes for a tedious day.

          1. Martin Budden Silver badge

            ...verifying that the updates have all been applied to each of them isn't going to be a fun task...

            Maybe use their coloured LEDs to indicate the software version: for example if you have 1021 green bots and 3 red bots, it's easy to tell which didn't get the upgrade.

        2. Alistair

          @2460 ---

          Shhhhhhhhh. No one is supposed to know what I'm up to .....

      2. samlebon2306

        "Upgrading the software on a few devices is usually annoying, 1k of them very much so."

        Maybe, multicasting would speed up updates by 1000X.

  8. streeeeetch


    I shall call zem kilobots [strokes cat], make zem move slowly and tell zem zey are to do with 1024.

    Bwaaah haaa hah haaaa....

    Really sorry folks, someone had to do it.

  9. soldinio

    Obligatory skynet allusion

    "when we invent a machine capable of creating a machine smarter than itself, we have already lost the war" - does a swarm smater than the individual count? If the algorythm works with nanobots we can create the T-1000 prototype :)

  10. shinanygnz


    Someone call SG1 quickly and we can kill them at v0.1

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. bots

    Those motors are used in a lot of older phones, Samsung mainly.

    The disk ones are nice as they are somewhat robust and controllable, as well as no external moving parts to snag or break.

    A good source is phone repair shops as the screen ribbon cable with attached motor is usually replaced as a unit, also old phones from charity shops sometimes have them.

  12. Sureo

    If they're internet connected someone can hack them and program them to attack.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Blitheringeejit

    I think you ought to know...

    ....I'm feeling very depressed.

    I wonder what sort of real people personalities (TM) would be appropriate for the botling hordes? Perhaps suitable neuro-patterns could be harvested from London commuters, or Glasto-goers..?

    Beer, partly because it's Friday, but mostly because

    a: if all goes according to plan, things like this will be doing my housework in a few years time;

    b: if the plan goes horribly awry and the botlings take over, I'll need a feckin' beer.

  15. Mike Flugennock

    Any other long-time Mac users here reminded of...

    The "Life" cellular-automata simulation screensaver that used to run on the old 680x0 Macs?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like