Belgian scientists, inspired by ants and termites, have produced robots that can evolve their 'thinking' to carry out different tasks.
Eliseo Ferrante and colleagues at the University of Leuven used "Darwinian selection" and "artificial evolution" to get a group of robots to divide themselves into groups, each group specialising in a certain task to achieve an overall goal.
Writing in journal PLOS Computational Biology, the PhD student says they were able to "show for the first time that self-organized task specialisation could be evolved entirely from scratch, starting only from basic, low-level behavioural primitives, using a nature-inspired evolutionary method known as grammatical evolution".
"Remarkably, division of labour was achieved merely by selecting on overall group performance, and without providing any prior information on how the global object retrieval task was best divided into smaller subtasks."
He compares the robots' ability to self-organise to the complex societies developed by termites and ants.
The researchers say potential future uses of Darwinian robot swarms include exploration of the moon or foreign planets, with robots able to adapt to unfamiliar terrain and conditions.