Shape-changing robots could create new swarms

Physicists and engineers have proposed a new principle by which active matter systems can spontaneously order. They have demonstrated this principle in a variety of systems, including groups of periodically shape-changing robots called “smarticles” The theory, developed by Pavel Chvykov at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posits that certain types of active matter with sufficiently messy dynamics will spontaneously find “low rattling” states.

When a swarm of smarticles is made to interact in a confined space, they form symmetric dances whose choreography emerges spontaneously from the physics of low rattling. | Credit: Thomas A. Berrueta

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology used smarticles to test theory. The robots spontaneously self-organize into a few dances. These dances could persist for hundreds of flaps, but suddenly lose stability. The findings may have broad practical implications for micro-robotic swarms, active matter, and metamaterials.

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