If you’re interested in studying real-world robot swarms, the unit cost is everything. Reportedly, most commercial swarm bots cost $100 or more, so this innovative design from Michael Rubenstein, Nicholas Hoff, and Radhika Nagpal of the Harvard’s Self Organizing Systems Research Group represents an order-of-magnitude savings over existing platforms. They call it “Kilobot,” and besides low cost, it is designed for rapid assembly (<5 min/unit) and group charging using plates that engage the top and bottom of the entire swarm at once. From their technical report (PDF):

While these robots are low-cost, they still have abilities similar to other collective robots. These abilities include: differential drive locomotion, on-board computation power, neighbor-to-neighbor communication, and neighbor-toneighbor distance sensing. These abilities are achieved at low cost mainly through the use of vibration based locomotion and a simple range only sensor.

The embedded video shows swarms of up to 29 Kilobots (about $410 dollars altogether) engaged in “foraging” and “follow-the-leader” behaviors. The group plans to produce a 1024-bot swarm in the near future. [via Hack a Day]