New Way To Link Materials May Enable Military Robots Made of Robots

US Army researchers – working with MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms – have created a new way to link materials with unique mechanical properties that have the possibility of building military robots made of robots. The construction technique uses a discrete lattice – or Lego-like – system that will eventually  produce robots that can reconfigure on their own. 

One possible application, according to the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, would be a swarm of robots that could form a bridge across a river for troop crossing, then reconfigure to another mission.

“Robots rearranging to form a bridge made of robots, similar to ants, is one embodiment of our concept of structural robotics, which blur the line between active and passive elements and feature reconfigurability. It is still a motivating use case for the system, but we are looking at broader implications for ground robotics which are adaptable, reconfigurable, and resilient,” said Dr. Christopher Cameron, an Army researcher. “If a swarm of robots can turn themselves into a bridge, how else can they be rearranged? How do we design and control robots like this?”

The next phases of the research will explore target applications such as modular soft robotics, impact absorbing structures, and rapid construction at the point of demand. 

“This part of our high risk, exploratory research portfolio within the Vehicle Technology Directorate,”  Dr. Bryan Glaz, associate chief scientist in the Army Research Laboratory’s Vehicle Technology Directorate, said. “In a couple of years we may find there is no major Army advantage to robots-made-robots but right now, we’ve thought of early Army applications such as rapidly forming bridges as well as air dropping or launching a bunch of smaller robots into a contested area and to test how they come together to form a larger mobile platform that can do useful functions in the aggregated phase.”