Tiny robots you can build and program

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Plenty of mad-scientist-esque movies have included some kind of version of a minion, and if you have seen Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013), then you know exactly why everyone is running around with little yellow beanie caps with humongous cartoon eyes and weird teeth on them. People love the idea of minions: live creatures with subpar intelligence levels, making them easily controlled by their evil bosses into doing their bidding without question. Did I say evil? I guess it’s kind of automatically understood that if you want to completely control a lesser intelligence than your own, you’re evil. But what about tiny robots?

They aren’t alive, they don’t have feelings. In films such as Despicable Me, its sequel, and Megamind (2010), there are lots and lots of robots, in addition to the minions, that work together as one. What if the minions and the robots could be combined somehow so that we could have the luxury of having a large group of assistants completing our dirty work without enslaving some little being?

Enter the kilobot!

While these babies are a long way away from being able to do more than follow simple orders, the fact that a recent programming team was able to get them to work together in a synchronized group is very cool. We’re talking up to 1000 kilobots together at once, like a little robotic swarm of bees.

This isn’t a completely new concept. Scientists and doctors, primarily surgeons, have already been working with nanobots in the medical field for quite some time now. Getting them all to work together as a unit, though, is still something they are only dreaming about. This is where computer programming and wireless technology really comes into play. Using infrared signals, the bots are quickly, remotely programmed (I’d say conned but, well, they’re robots!) for the task at hand, and the entire swarm of bots can be programmed simultaneously, no matter how large the swarm may be.

So, how do they work together as a group? A set of algorithms, designed with the behaviors of grouping animal life in mind (think school of fish or swarm of insects) has been programmed into them that bases the bots’ “decisions” upon the relative location of another bot. If one bot is being sent left and gets too close to a stationary bot, the bot “feels” the moving bot is going left and does likewise. They communicate with signals of light and can recognize the distance in between them (and judge where they are being told to be) based on how bright or dim the light is.

They aren’t just moving together willy-nilly; there are always a few centralized robots which they can use to determine their location and appropriate movement. It’s obviously still a work in progress, but hey, this IS progress! Can you imagine sending an army of bots to pick up all the leaves in the backyard? Or go one step further and invent some kind of vaporizer ray so they can just vaporize all the leaves and yard debris (does someone here not like yardwork much?)

Interested in playing with some robot minions of your own? Have at least $14 per bot to spend? Then you are sooo in luck, because you can actually buy some of these little guys for yourself to learn about and figure out how to program. The financial bite is in the computer stuff, because in order to program these bots, you need tech. There are lots of tech schools popping up nowadays with whom you could probably share your bots in return for the use of their tech. That way, everyone could get a chance to play with robot minions.