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Swarms of Microrobots Over Europe? 161

Roland Piquepaille writes "In 'Mini robots to undertake major tasks?,' IST Results describes a EU-funded project which allowed to build several kinds of microrobots in the last three years. These robots are very small (about 1.5 cm by 3 cm), have limited on-board intelligence and are wirelessly controlled by a central robot control system. A follow-on project has already started, with an even more ambitious goal: deploy 'real' swarms of up to 1,000 robot clients. Such robot swarms are expected to perform 'a variety of applications, including micro assembly, biological, medical or cleaning tasks.' Read more for additional details, pictures and references about this follow-on project not described by the article mentioned above."
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Swarms of Microrobots Over Europe?

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  • Robots (Score:2, Funny)

    by TheMeuge ( 645043 )
    In Europe, robots deploy you.
    • actually it's more the way that the robot de-deploys you ... meaning you will be unemployeed if the robots take over everything ...

      having automatic stuff around is nice, but to be jobless because of this can't be fun. luckily robots can't make software nor administrate it properly for a while so we're all saved for now.

      but you should worry about the future ;) the robots won't kill you, the economy will.

      #be afraid of the robots ... very afraid ... cause they're almost as tough as chuck norris ...
      • Re:Robots (Score:3, Interesting)

        by interiot ( 50685 )
        Umm, if the means of production is completely in the hands of robots, there's no reason not to radically restructure the economy and go to something more like socialism, because there's no reason for humans to be forced to consistently generate productive output. Personally, if someone told me I was allowed to spend my whole time studying physics or math or producing silly flash animations, I'd be overjoyed.
        • Re:Robots (Score:2, Funny)

          by jruesch ( 926008 )
          If the means of production is entirely in the hands of the robots what makes you think they will want to produce food and water and housing to keep the silly humans alive that are only producing inefficiencies within the system. Humans would be considered vermin.
          • There should be a +1 Terrifying option.
            • Well, if this had been in the US, the story would have been along the lines of...

              Swarms of Microrobots to be Deployed over Battlefields

              Massacre Magazine describes a Pentagon funded project which allowed to build several kinds of microrobots in the last three years. The robots are very small (0.000149129086 furlongs by 0.00298258172 rods) have limited intelligence, a grenade launcher and are controlled by a Republican. A follow-on project has already started, with an even more ambitious goal: deploy 'real' s

          • Well, if the robots were programmed to like serving humans and be happy when they make people happy...
        • Re:Robots (Score:3, Insightful)

          by moro_666 ( 414422 )
          you're stuck in illusions.

          companies that make the robots and companies that use the robots will get all the money and profit. you'll be unemployed and dream about a robot that would you earn enough money to buy a cup of coffee ...

          it will take ages before you get this 'common wealth', and i don't want to see zillion workless people around until the companies understand that the money really isn't worth a thing ...

          bill gates could probably buy a notebook for every damn developer in the world, but is he doing
        • if the means of production is completely in the hands of robots, there's no reason not to radically restructure the economy and go to something more like socialism

          You also need fusion to do this. And probably room-temperature superconductors and space elevators. All achievable in the 21st century, though.

          The trouble will come when governments try to limit people to their share of the wealth. If you have to repress people with violence because their innate greed (bred in by evolution) isn't scalable there
        • Personally, if someone told me I was allowed to spend my whole time studying physics or math or producing silly flash animations, I'd be overjoyed

          You are in the minority. Most humans are incapable of handling an environment where they are not integrated into some hierarchy that makes them feel both wanted and to some extent powerful. Different social systems are merely different ways of apportioning the wanted/powerful ratio amongst individuals. Totalitarian and free-market systems are based on different
      • And yet, one vision of the future which could very reasonably be described as a worthy goal is a society in which, due to mechanisation, people never have to do work which they (really) do not want to do.

        How we could transition into such a world without society crashing and burning, given the economic problems caused by lots of work "going away" is an interesting problem.
        • Duh, its already happening.

          Have you ever tried making bread from scratch the old fashioned way? It was an all day affair. So was laundry and getting the dust out of the house. Machines took over these jobs or vastly reduced the time and effort to do them.

          This mechanization has over the last hundred years helped cause a workplace revolution as millions of women now had enough free time to enter the workforce.

          These millions of people looking for work didn't cause the destruction of society, but merely cau

  • by Anonymous Coward
    How long until Toner Wars and Dog Pod grids?
  • by Frogbert ( 589961 ) <frogbert AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday February 25, 2006 @05:32PM (#14801691)
    Okay I have a serious question, is there any reason we can't create robots specifically designed to build an exact copy of themselves only half as small? Wouldn't this allow us to have teeny tiny robots in a few months?
    • Unfortunately no. While you can build equipment designed to build smaller robots, there are more factors than just size as to whether these things will operate. For instance, you run into physical limits such as the strength to move themselves that have to be worked around , as well as several physics and electrical concerns.
    • Re:Serious question (Score:4, Informative)

      by kebes ( 861706 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @05:50PM (#14801744) Journal
      Well such an idea sounds reasonable enough. In fact in Richard Feynman's [wikipedia.org] "plenty of room at the bottom" famous speech, he describes something similar: building small machines that are then used to build even smaller machines, until finally you have atomic-scale machines. This speech is considered by many to be the "original idea" for nanotechnology.

      So why don't we have nanobots yet? Well it turns out its a little more complicated than that. The basic problem is that designs for large-scale robots do not work at smaller scales. You can take macroscopic engineering principles and scale them up or down to a point, but eventually they break down. The design of a 200ft long bridge is not just a 4X scale version of a 50ft bridge, after all.

      If you read Drexler's [wikipedia.org] technical book on the subject (Nanosystems [zyvex.com]) he goes into detail on how various properties (strength, elasticity, conductivity) scale down to the nano realm. Some of them scale favorably, whereas others do not. Thus nano-scale robots will not merely be "small versions" of macro robots. For instance the viscosity of a liquid becomes much more important than gravity, at small scales (whereas at large scales dealing with inertia and gravity are important).

      My point is that robots cannot simply build exact (but smaller) copies of themselves. The half-sized robots will be useless within a generation or two, and will require new designs, optimized for that size. (Added to that, robot designs that are self-replicating are not trivial to begin with, at any size-scale!)
      • My point is that robots cannot simply build exact (but smaller) copies of themselves.
        Oh, my, no. That would require extremely tiny atoms, and have you priced those lately? I'm not made of money! [Farnsworth]
      • Re:Serious question (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AaronLawrence ( 600990 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @08:40PM (#14802246)
        Has anyone even made a robot that can build a replica of itself, by itself?
        • Given what raw materials? If you could build a robot that could build a replica of itself from anything, you'd have to be damn careful they didn't replace you and the rest of the world with copies of themselves (search for "gray dust"). And yes, someone has constructed a self-replicating fabricator, although it needs some help in the form of assembly, screws, bushings, etc. See here [bath.ac.uk].
        • Sure - given the right building blocks. See http://ccsl.mae.cornell.edu/research/selfrep/ [cornell.edu]
        • Givem the right building blocks.

          Unfortunately it'll still get it wrong occasionaly, and succesive generatiions will be progressively less capable than the previous ones - which is the main reason that "grey goo" is pretty unlikely.

          Now, there is a way of building a device that can self-replicate using only very comonly available materials, can error-correct so that few errors in replication occur, and those that do don't cause the device to become totaly non-functional, but rather just make it behave sli

        • *dons flame-retardant suit*

          The Republican Party?
      • Well such an idea sounds reasonable enough. In fact in Richard Feynman's "plenty of room at the bottom" famous speech, he describes something similar: building small machines that are then used to build even smaller machines, until finally you have atomic-scale machines. This speech is considered by many to be the "original idea" for nanotechnology.

        Although, I wonder if he ever read Waldo & Magic, Inc [wikipedia.org] by Robert A Heinlein which was written in 1940. Its been a few years since I read it, but I'm sure th

        • it wont work for other reasons not least of which is that when you get to atomic scale the forces you are dealing with change dramatically and different things are important.

          So I should believe some guy with a slashdot user number nearing the one million mark who poopoos the idea over the guy who in his mid-20's worked on the atomic bomb and who was sought out by Bohr to chat over difficult Physics concepts about what is and isn't possible and says that this is possible?

    • Re:Serious question (Score:4, Interesting)

      by v1 ( 525388 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @06:36PM (#14801904) Homepage Journal
      A lot of things don't scale well. For example, if you have a bearing wtih a very small tolerance to roll around in, if you shrink the entire thing down to say, 50% its size, the bearing will sieze because the gap is not large enough to allow the grease molicules to move around anymore. You can't shrink the grease molicules so they don't fit right anymore.

      Electrical insulators are a certain thickness to protect against arcing of a certain voltage. If you cut the thickness of an insulator in half and don't cut the voltage in half, the insulator will likely be compromised by the voltage and you'll get a short or an arc.

      Certain effects, such as viscosity and magnetism, don't change linearly with change in distance. When two magnets get twice as close as they used to be, the attractive/repulsive forces are now four times as great. Since you've probably also just cut your structure thicknesses in half, they are now much weaker, and the magnets being stronger produces an exponentally rising imbalance. In the end the magnets will deform your construction.

      When mechanical devices get very small, they also encounter new hazards you take for granted. A grain of sand in a gas tank isn't a big deal, until the gas tank has shrunk to 1cc. Minor vibration or mechanical shock becomes more dangerous in some respects, and becomes nonexistent in others. Parts that are designed to float with eachother will stick since they are not receiving the benefitial effects of vibrations normally present.

      Combustion and other important chemical and physical reactions work very differently at larger and smaller scales.

      Other factors also cause problems at small scales. Capilary effect, static attraction, surface tension, it's a whole new world when you get really small, especially when any liquids are involved. I think that's why we have physics, astrophysics, and quantum physics... the rules change when you radically alter size.

      So there are actually a lot of things to consider when trying to shrink something. It's not just a matter of making all the parts smaller.
      • With all these problems wouldn't you assume to build something truly simple.
        ie, if you can get away with a vibrating beam rather than a rotational motor then do so.

        Remember to build your robots using assembler language rather than visual basic.
        • Additional to this, in the encoding principles, introduce genetic coding.
          Allow a percentage of robots to die off because their tolerences were out of bounds, the rest will thrive and build the next generation.

          It is survival of the fittest.
          • An easy way to accomplish spectacular feats of self-engineering.

            Also an easy way to end the world in the grey-goo method.

            Read Micheal Chrichton's Prey - I'm sure there are better books out there about the topic, but I can't think of any off the topic of my head, and at least it gets across the point that evolution into macro-organisms is impossible to control totally on something nanoscale - though it may be in the designers' interest.

            Grey Goo is the new Nuclear Annihilation, and I'm of the opinion that it'
            • Ironically, the partial fix for a localized grey goo outbreak is an EMP pulse or ten caused by nukes detonated in the ionosphere
              • That depends on whether those nanostructures are even affected by an EMP. And even if, microwave bombs are cheaper and less dangerous for that purpose.

                Using extreme heat (nothing withstands the temperatures of a fusion bomb) would be fairly effective at wiping out nanostructures as would certain types of radiation (though those have to be adjusted to the nanostructure) or chemicals. Not every weakness could be evolved away easily and perfect protection will probably be impossible. What UV radiation doesn't
        • I agree, in many cases when you shrink something you can simplify the design. But the point is, you have to change the design. That's not something that's easy to program into a self replicating computer. And when it down-sizes itself, does it simplify its brain too? It has to get smaller as well if the whole thing is to shrink. It gets harder to stay smart when you shrink your brain. ;)
      • You can't shrink the grease molicules so they don't fit right anymore.

        Didn't Rick Moranis [imdb.com] have this covered pretty well? Maybe he should have given that science career more thought before moving on to country music [rickmoranis.com]? :-)
    • They do this in Bug Park by J.P. Hogan.

      Good book, btw.

      qz
  • Replicators [wikipedia.org], anyone?
    • More like mini Borg. "Resistance is futile ... or it would be, if I could reach up to assimilate your foot".
  • Size matters. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by imunfair ( 877689 )
    The article says they're 3cm x 1.5cm, yet the image shows robots the size of red blood cells. Someone is an idiot, I hope the image wasn't provided by the people making these things, because I personally don't want swarms of defective robots flying around trying to pollinate my eyes or something like that.

    Just imagine riding along at 50mph on a motorcycle and swallowing a flying microrobot - sounds painful. (The article doesn't really say if they move by air - but swarm makes me think of flying bugs.)
    • The articles give confused messages on the size of these things. One minute they're of order a few centimetres; the next, they're injecting liquid into biological cells; following that, lined up next to a ruler measuring a few millimetres.

      Just how ruddy big are these things?!

    • when you hear 'swarm', think of a carpet of ants streaming across your driveway.
    • When you consider power supply requirements, maneuverability, size-to-weight ratio and other factors, I think 1.5 x 3 cm is about the minimum size required to look for Sarah Connor.
    • No, European blood cells are about 3cm x 1.5cm. That's also why if you're an American in Europe and you need a blood transfusion you need to use an adapter.
      • No, European blood cells are about 3cm x 1.5cm. That's also why if you're an American in Europe and you need a blood transfusion you need to use an adapter.

        Obviously the intelligent designer screwed up in a imperial-to-metric measurement conversion at some point...

  • by Comatose51 ( 687974 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @05:49PM (#14801735) Homepage
    I was doing a search on my Google personalized homepage that has a RSS feed from Slashdot. For a second there, I read "Swarms of Microsofts Over Europe". Whew!
  • We all still remember what happened in Itchy and Scratchy Land...
  • Then, they'll expand this program, and give them weapons, and have droid control ships, and then this kid'll fly inside one and accidentaly blow it up, and he'll be a hero. . .
  • Roland Piquepaille and Slashdot: Is there a connection?

    I think most of you are aware of the controversy surrounding regular Slashdot article submitter Roland Piquepaille. For those of you who don't know, please allow me to bring forth all the facts. Roland Piquepaille has an online journal (I refuse to use the word "blog") located at www.primidi.com [primidi.com]. It is titled "Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends". It consists almost entirely of content, both text and pictures, taken from reputab
    • Stop whining,

      You dont have to read the articles.

      I have a link in my sig with a discount coupon if you use it I earn a few dollars and you save 90. Who cares? If you dont like it go somewhere else are disable sigs.
    • I would have to agree that Roland probably bothers to post on Slashdot in order to get traffic for his site. But it's not like he's posting crap. As you said, the articles he posts are interesting and relevant. Without him, they probably would not have shown up on Slashdot, and you wouldn't get access to these interesting and relevant articles. Sure, Roland makes some money off of it. But it's not like he's living the high life off the hard work of Slashdotters. He gets a couple of hundred dollars a m
    • Seriously, this is slashdot, we're here to read the headline, jump to conclusions, bash microsoft and start the odd flamewar, or occasionally engage in fascinating discussions that equally off topic. So who's clicking on the link anyway? Haven't you realized by now when we all claim that the link is "slashdotted" we mean we didn't click on it and we ain't gonna read the article anyway.
    • You have written so much it has set my crack-pot radar all a-buzz.

      Blow me down, and knock me over with a feather, but if I'm right this guy is providing an intelligent aggregation of information, unlike RSS, and making some sort of living while he's at it. Obviously he's a terrorist. Don't visit his web site; you might get blown up.

      So what if he's plagiarising; we aren't talking about the Washington Post here, or the New York Nonsense. If the guy means to be taken seriously, rather than just making a livin

    • Do a google search for the first sentence of the parent post in slashdot. This post has been copy pasted numerous times by a guy who's got an ax to grind against Roland:

      I think most of you are aware of the controversy [google.ca]

      Here's my advise to the guy with the ax to grind: you've submitted this rant often enough. Go take a huff of lithium and stop bogging down the discussions with OT copy-paste posts. If you don't like Roland's stuff, add him to your filter list.

      Here's my advice to everyone else: stop modding t
    • Why the hell are people modding this up? The submitter is not the story - and the parent is just a cut and paste anyhow.
    • Uh, perhaps you should have checked this particular article before you copy and pasted this rant - the only place he links his blog is his name-link; the others are legit publications. I'd have said that linking to blogs are just about exactly what name-links are for.
      • the only place he links his blog is his name-link; the others are legit publications.

        No; the "additional details" link is another of his blogs. And whereas Slashdot adds a "nofollow" to the submitter's link, (to discourage link spamming), it does not to ones in the story. And his "additional details" are either copied from the prinmary souce, or found by a cursory Google search.

    • Is this "service" worth up to $647 a month?

      Even if he's living in his Mom's basement, nobody can live on $647 a month. That's below federal poverty lines. So this has to be a hobby, or he's in high school. It's hard to get worked up over a max of $7764 a year - that's probably not worth his time to write the blog. Maybe he's just bad at math. If he is in high school, good for him for trying to make a blog, even if he's made some bad judgements on source attributions during his freshman year. I have no
      • An electrical engineer with a PhD degree, conducting research at a world-renown university in India will make less than $674/month.

        Is he hurting anybody? Well, how would you feel if you were a real journalist and some punk was copying your words -- your hard work -- without attribution and getting paid for it? Journalists aren't exactly on the same pay scale as American lawyers...

        And do you think this guy is paying taxes? Or even reporting to the IRS? Even at $8000k/year, THEY would care.
        • An electrical engineer with a PhD degree, conducting research at a world-renown university in India will make less than $674/month.

          I think it's closer to $2000/mo, but the question of 'is he hurting anybody' depends entirely on your philosophy on the role of central government as a social safety net. If you accept that millions of people in India go without clean water and electricity and don't think that's New Dehli's responsibility, then no he's not hurting anybody. If you think India can compete so eff
    • "The real question is, why does Slashdot continue to accept every single one of his submissions when many of the readers see through the scam and whole-heartedly object to what he is doing?"

      CmdrTaco addressed this in an article a couple months ago (as I recall). He mentioned that some people will submit multiple articles per day. Now if Mr. Piquapackofpickledpeppers is only getting between 4 and 10 submissions accepted each month, I doubt anywhere near all of his submissions are accepted. Taco also said
  • As a proof of concept, they meant well, but started off down the wrong path by having these things centrally controlled.

    Central control will work for a few hundred machines, maybe even a few thousand, but you'll run into major bottlenecking issues when you've got these things small enough to use clouds of millions or billions. Moreover, central control requires needlessly high bandwidth, when you have a single decision-maker in charge of things which could more easily be handled at the local level. Think
  • I RTFA but still ain't clear what they're doing or how it's better than current ways:

    [...] first was a medical or biological application, in which the robot was handling biological cells, injecting liquid into them [...] second scenario was micro-assembly, in which the robot soldered tiny parts. The final scenario looked at atomic force, with the robot mounting atomic force and doing experiments on it."

    Were the bots in a body and injecting cells? Did they solder parts that we can't do with normal chip ma

  • by Bizzeh ( 851225 )
    how do you stop people from steeling them?
  • Michael Crichton's Prey
    • I was looking for the post that mentioned that book... Because that my first thought. I've read the book... it's a good read.... well, no, it's typical Crichton crap... but I did enjoy it! Better than David Gibbins' Atlantis which I'm reading at the moment!

      Back to robots. TFA seems a little confused with dimenions, and I know they're no-where near close (yet), but I really think that anyone planning to make self replicating nano-bot really should read Crichton's book.... :-)
    • J.P. Hogan Bug Park

      qz
    • Stanislaw Lem's Invincible
  • "Such robot swarms are expected to perform 'a variety of applications, including micro assembly, biological, MEDICAL or cleaning tasks"

    They may be small but it would take a heck of a needle to inject them into your arm. OUCH!
  • These robots ... have limited on-board intelligence and are wirelessly controlled by a central robot control system.

    Forget about distributed denial of service attacks. Past studies show that all you need to take them down are a couple of jedi (which, if I recall, Europe's voter registration implies they have thousands of) and a really annoying little kid.
  • A real life chibi robo?
  • Here we have an example of perfect Zen:

    A postulated swarm of thousands (why not millions?) of:

    • Non-existent robots.
    • With non-existent sensors.
    • And non-existent manipulators.
    • And non-existent power.
    • Moved by non-existent motors.
    • Being used to do things nobody needs or wants.
  • Personally, I welcome our very small robot overlords.
  • in a movie and it didnt turn out too good for us? Robots swarming on my ass is not what I have on my mind when walking in the park
    • I also saw a movie [intuitor.com] where Earth's core stopped and the resulting hole in the magnetic field caused a space laser to melt the Golden Gate Bridge. Call me disillusioned, but I think that sometimes movies might not depict reality. On the other hand we should probably try not to develop an earthquake weapon, just in case.
  • by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @08:35PM (#14802231)
    They started off to build 7 robots and have them work collaboratively. They actually built only one.

    So, instead of just saying that, they highlight results that say they've shown several things to be possible (that really didn't seem likely to be impossible in the first place, as they are already done with existing micromanipulation systems. Cellular injection is pretty common stuff.), by doing similar things with a robot orders of magnitude larger than the ones they are aiming for.

    Then, they announce a follow on project where they really, no, really this time, are going to build swarms of collaborative microbots.

    You just have to keep funding us.
  • Don't you have anything else to do besides submit stories?
  • I, for one, welcome our new Microrobot overlords...

    "The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots. Thank you."
  • Microrobots? That has to be the most awkward word ever. Why didn't they go with the obvious word that simply screams stylish and marketable -- Microbots?
  • We've been hearing about these self-replicating, networked, tiny, flying robots for, what, at least ten years now. I've heard that they will be able to assemble themselves into any form to give us a Star Trek-like holodeck environment. Through their collective intelligence, they will become super-intelligent and demand the same rights as humans. They will eventually enslave us and blah, blah, blah. The fact is, we're so far away from having microbots, much less nanobots, that we shouldn't even be wastin
  • After reading the Dune: the battle of corrin,
    I am scared shitless.
  • There are several quite new (all founded around 2004) collaborative advanced robotics projects sponsored by the EU:

    http://www.cogniron.org/ [cogniron.org] and http://www.neurobotics.info/ [neurobotics.info] are probably the most interesting and better organized than the mentioned http://www.i-swarm.org/ [i-swarm.org].

    Of course that single-digit project founding is just a droplet in the ocean as it would need an apollo program to make profound progress. On the other hand, society has rarely focused its resources on the important and promising technologies

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

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