One of the most fascinating areas of emerging technology is swarm robotics, in which networks of robots communicate and coordinate behavior with one another. The paradigm is modeled after the collective behavior of ants and bees. One group working on swarm robots is the Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms (“SYMBRION”) project, a European research consortium, which is attempting to create swarm robots which will self-assemble into larger ones. The SYMBRION project’s mission is “to investigate and develop novel principles of adaptation and evolution for symbiotic multi-robot organisms based on bio-inspired approaches and modern computing paradigms. Such robot organisms consist of super-large-scale swarms of robots, which can dock with each other and symbiotically share energy and computational resources within a single artificial-life-form.” The robots would follow a biological model of evolution, which, the researchers believe, will make them self-healing, self-configured, self-protecting, and self-optimizing, and, perhaps most importantly, self-replicating.
SYMBRION project member Dr. Alan Winfield likens individual robots to cells assembling to create an organism; in fact, much of the terminology the researchers use to describe the robots’ architecture is culled from biology (“dendritic cells algorithm,” "artificial lymph node”). (pdf)
So what kind of uses do the researchers foresee for the robotic organisms? Winfield envisions this:
“A future application of this technology might be for example where a Symbrion swarm could be released into a collapsed building following an earthquake, and they could form themselves into teams searching for survivors or to lift rubble off stranded people. Some robots might form a chain allowing rescue workers to communicate with survivors while others assemble themselves into a 'medicine bot' to give first aid."