Colorado engineers creating ball-sized robots to clean up future toxic spills

While science fiction is chock full of robot swarms imperiling the human race, it seems that a team from the University of Colorado (UC) has sought to both dispel that myth and provide an effective means for future natural disaster clean up efforts. According to a press release from the university, a new type of robot has been developed that, if fully realized, could change the way humans perform a wide variety of tasks.

Known colloquially by the team as the "droplets", these ping pong ball-sized machines are capable of working together to solve whichever task they are instructed to do. Currently, the research group is developing ways to orchestrate the robots as a team. Eventually, sources say, they could be programmed to self-regulate and complete instructions with relative independence.

"Our robots aren't really designed for one particular problem," Nicholas Farrow, a research assistant involved with the initiative, told PopSci, a technology news source. "When our robots are completed, we’ll be able to apply them to problems we haven't even thought of right now."

This "distributed intelligence system" could later be implemented in other robotic systems, including machines capable of scooping up nuclear waste or extracting minerals from hard-to-reach areas. Nikolaus Correll, an assistant professor who is helping to lead the project, stated that the sky is quite literally the limit for this kind of innovation.

"Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells," he was quoted as saying. "Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers."

With an ample amount of federal funding for the project, these robots will continue to be developed by the UC team. It's tough to say when and how they'll be used, unfortunately. But hopefully, someday, when you spill a drink at a restaurant, a team of plucky robots could pop out and clean it up before you know it.

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