It is now possible to control an entire fleet of robots just by gently swiping the screen of a smart tablet.
The machines, which look more like cute toys than man-killing monsters, are drawn to wherever there is a beam of red light, and this can be determined by where you place your finger on the tablet's face.
So if you put your finger in the top left corner, a beam of light will shine in that direction and all the little robots will speedily make their way over there, communicating with each other as they go to make sure they don't end up on top of each other. Instead, they spread evenly over the illuminated zone.
“It’s not possible for a person to control a thousand or a million robots by individually programming each one where to go,” explained Magnus Egerstedt, one of the lead scientists involved. “Instead, the operator controls an area that needs to be explored. Then the robots work together to determine the best ways to accomplish the job.”
The system was developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and aims to demonstrate how easy it can be to control big groups of robots. While this might sound terrifying, it has the potential to improve work efficiency in areas such as manufacturing, agriculture and disaster relief.
Yancy Diz-Mercado, another scientist who played a lead role in the development, said:
In the future, farmers could send machines into their fields to inspect the crops. Workers on manufacturing floors could direct robots to one side of the warehouse to collect items, then quickly direct them to another area if the need changes.