Researchers create 1,000-kilobot swarm — self-assembling collective behavior

Robot swarm
Click to see the swarm in action [no sound]

Scientists have created a swarm of over a thousand coin-sized robots that can assemble themselves into two-dimensional shapes by communicating with their neighbours.

At 1,024 members, this man-made flock — described in the 15 August issue of Science — is the largest yet to demonstrate collective behaviour. The self-organization techniques used by the tiny machines could aid the development of ‘transformer’ robots that reconfigure themselves, researchers say, and they might shed light on how complex swarms form in nature…

The robots communicate using infrared light, but they are only able to transmit and receive information with the robots nearest to them — so they cannot ‘see’ the whole collective. However…seed robots act as the point of origin for a coordinate system; information on their position propagates outward through the swarm like fire signals across the peaks of a mountain range. This allows each bot to determine where it is and whether it is inside the shape programmed by researchers. Over a period of about 12 hours, the programmed configuration — such as the letter ‘K’ or a star — takes form, robot by robot.

RTFA. Use your imagination. What might be accomplished.

Dumb crook of the day

Ryan Mullins

A North Carolina man was arrested after he allegedly stole a safe from a pharmacy and then dragged it behind his car. The suspect, Ryan Mullins, may have gotten away with it too, except he passed an officer while he was driving.

The 22-year-old allegedly swiped the safe from Family Care Pharmacy and dragged it for more than two miles before the officer saw him.

Individuals near the pharmacy reportedly saw Mullins’ vehicle parked outside with the safe nearby.

“You could just tell he was messing with something and having a struggle,” witness Carmen Fickling told WCTI12. “A lot of things crossed through my mind as to what could possibly be going on and none of them were good. But I never expected to see him pull a safe with the rope. It was strange.”

Mullins is charged with felony breaking and entering, larceny, possession of stolen goods, two felony counts of trafficking opium or heroin, one count of safe cracking and misdemeanor DWI.

The 100-pound safe reportedly contained prescription drugs.

Here in New Mexico we take a somewhat warped pride in being the home of some of the dumbest crooks in America. I think we should make Ryan Mullins an honorary New Mexican.

“To Serve and Protect” Missouri-style


Click for another view of what peaceful demonstrators faced

Anyone familiar with the history of race and policing in the United States had to suspect from the beginning that the shooting of Michael Brown was not just a tragedy, but a crime. Yet presumption of innocence prevails and sober minds know both the need to wait for an investigation and the reality that we may never really know what happened that fateful Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri. But watching events unfold Wednesday night in the St. Louis suburb, there can be no doubt that what happened on August 13 was an outrage.

The local authorities clearly have no idea what they’re doing, and higher powers from the state or federal government need to intervene before things get even worse.

The arrest of two reporters, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, with whom many of us in Washington, DC, are acquainted was neither the beginning nor the most important part of the outrage, but it drives home in a visceral way the extent to which the situation is being monumentally mishandled.

Police officers, for some unfathomable reason, were pointing guns at unarmed civilians at twilight.

Crowd control is a normal complement to any modern protest. And as I remember well from the late-Giuliani days in New York, crowd control sometimes gets heavy-handed when relationships between the police and the community are strained. But you do crowd control with horses, batons, and shields, not rifles. You point guns at dangerous, violent criminals, not people out for a march…

That sounds about right. There were an awful lot of somebodies who didn’t know better out on the streets of Ferguson last night wielding an awful lot of deadly equipment. Quite a few people have been injured over the past few days by rubber bullets and rough handling (although in a Wednesday press conference, a police spokesperson insisted that no one had been injured during the protests).

Wednesday night’s outing ended for many protestors in a cloud of tear gas. In my experience, these “nonviolent” crowd-control tactics are a good deal more painful than people who’ve never been at the receiving end appreciate. There’s no real reason they should be inflicted on demonstrators who weren’t hurting anyone or even damaging property. We are lucky, to be honest, that nobody’s been killed yet. But somebody who does know better needs to take charge. And soon.

…It is clear at this point that local officials in the town of Ferguson and St. Louis County don’t know what they are doing. Of course people will not be calm while police officers charged with protecting them trample their rights.


What did you learn, today, little girl?

The first person in a demonstration that I saw shot by police was a young woman in her mid-20’s. She was carrying her baby in her arms. She took a bullet in her left arm. That was July 19, 1964 in Harlem, New York. She was shot by a cop who was part of a group trying to prevent anyone from getting to the funeral parlor where the body of James Powell lay – killed by Lt. Thomas Gilligan of the NYPD.

In the aftermath of Powell’s death the people of New York City counted 1 dead, 118 injured, and 465 arrested. Overwhelmingly Black, the uprising counted many Hispanic folks – mostly Puerto Rican, many white demonstrators. Government response was the same as it ever was. There were investigations, Congressional hearings, lots of bullshit discussion – and nothing changed.

Our politicians, our government is as worthless as ever. Courtesy of the technology revolution of the last decade or so more people get to see what happens outside their comfort zone. Perhaps that will prompt more than campaign rhetoric.