Making robots act like humans is hard, but making robots act like insects is considerably easier. And if you’ve ever seen a towering ant hill, or a massive bee hive, you know that thousands of insects working together can accomplish impressive things. So why not have a bunch of tiny robots do the same?

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Researchers from Stanford University in the US, and Inria and Université Paris-Saclay in France, developed these simple one-inch Zooids micro robots featuring a pair of wheels, a battery, a touch sensor, a gyroscope, and an optical sensor. They’re a far cry from Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS humanoid bot, but still remarkably capable.

They’re not going to lead military troops into battle, but as demonstrated in this video, the Zooids can work together for a variety of different purposes such as acting like animated pixels in an interactive display, or more mundane chores like bringing you your smartphone when you simply don’t feel like reaching for it.

In terms of artificial intelligence, the Zooids are straight-up dumb. But using an overhead projector that allows a separate computer to track and monitor their positions at all time, the micro robots can be sent complex instructions to perform complicated tasks by working together.

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Imagine having thousands of these crawling across your floors. Sure, it would be a little creepy at times, and occasionally you’d accidentally step on one. But your days of having to pick up after yourself would be long gone. And with enough of them sharing the load, you could even program them to carry you to bed each night. That’s a future I’d sign up for.

[ACM Digital Library via TechCrunch]