The particle robot, also known as the “grey goo” robot has created a turning point in the history of robotics. Unlike other robots, the particle robot isn’t one single unit. It is actually made of many smaller particles, like the name suggests.
This project was formed by MIT and was based off of the concept of biological cells themselves. According to EarthSky, basic cells work better together than alone. By studying cells of living creatures, these researchers were able to create the particle robot, a robot made up of many smaller parts that can connect and work together. So far, these robots can only work together to move towards a light source but they have yet to advance.
Each unit of the robot resembles a gear and is attached to a light sensor, a motor, and a battery. These units detect light and then rate the intensity of the light by levels between 1 and 10. By emitting signals to the other units, the particle can communicate with the other particles and exchange information on the intensity of the light.
The gears of the robot have the ability to expand and contract in order to create a push and pull system. “Particles experiencing the highest intensity — level 10 — expand first. As those particles contract, the next particles in order, level 9, then expand.” stated MIT researchers. By continuing this pattern, the robot will eventually reach the light source.
Many researchers believe that particle robots are just the tip of the iceberg. They hope that one day, robots will be able to “rearrange” themselves. ScienceDaily states that “Suppose, for example, that a robot needs a screwdriver from the table — the screwdriver is too far to reach. What if the robot could reshuffle its cells to grow an extra long arm? As its goals change, its body can change too.”