A robot made of robots. Is it possible?

(Picture was taken from techexplore.com)

Robot locomotion is typically generated by coordinated integration of single-purpose components, like actuators, sensors, body segments, and limbs. 
We posit that certain future robots could self-propel using systems in which a delineation of components and their interactions is not so clear, becoming robust and flexible entities composed of functional components that are redundant and generic and can interact stochastically. 
Control of such a collective becomes a challenge because synthesis techniques typically assume known input-output relationships. To discover principles by which such future robots can be built and controlled, we study a model robot physical system: planar ensembles of periodically deforming smart, active particles—articles. 
When enclosed, these individually immotile robots could collectively diffuse via stochastic mechanical interactions. We show experimentally and theoretically that directed drift of such a supersmarticle could be achieved via inactivation of individual articles and used this phenomenon to generate endogenous phototaxis. 

By numerically modeling the relationship between article activity and transport, we elucidated the role of article deactivation on supersmarticle dynamics from little data—a single experimental trial. From this mapping, we demonstrate that the supersmarticle could be exogenously steered anywhere in the plane, expanding supersmarticle capabilities while simultaneously enabling decentralized closed-loop control. 
We suggest that the article model system may aid the discovery of principles by which a class of future “stochastic” robots can rely on collective internal mechanical interactions to perform tasks.

source : https://robotics.sciencemag.org/

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