It may be a step forward for collective artificial intelligence, although the researchers acknowledge the Kilobots are not exactly thinking deep thoughts.
"This is a 'collective' of robots — a group of robots that work together to complete a common goal," said Harvard computer scientist Michael Rubenstein, who led the study. "If you call collective artificial intelligence the ability of a 'collective' to start to behave as a single entity, you could call this collective artificial intelligence."
The Kilobots are simple and inexpensive robots built to talk to fellow Kilobots and sense the location of those others using infrared light. They use vibration motors to slide across a surface on their three legs.
But the surface must be very smooth. The one used in this study was essentially a 2.4 metre by 2.4 metre "dry erase" board tabletop. Even minor surface friction like that of paper halts them.