NASA is exploring robotic (micro-robotic?) swarming.
The Autonomic NanoTechnology Swarm (ANTS) is a generic mission architecture consisting of miniaturized, autonomous, self-similar, reconfigurable, addressable components forming structures. The components/structures have wide spatial distribution and multi-level organization. This ‘swarm’ behavior is inspired by the success of social insect colonies where within their specialties, individuals outperform generalists and with sufficiently efficient social interaction and coordination, groups of specialists outperform groups of generalists.
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The Autonomous NanoTechnology Swarm (ANTS) Architecture is well suited to remote space or ground operations. It is being implemented on a near term basis, using Addressable Reconfigurable Technology (ART). In the future, Super Miniaturized ART (SMART) will form highly reconfigurable networks of struts, acting as 3D mesh or 2D fabric to perform a range of functions on demand. The ANTS approach harnesses the effective skeletal/ muscular system of the frame itself to enable amoeboid movement, effectively ‘flowing’ between morphological forms. ANTS structures would thus be capable of forming an en tire mobile modular infrastructure adapted to its environment.
The ANTS architecture is inspired by the success of social insect colonies, a success based on the division of labor within the colony in two key ways: First, within their specialties, individual specialists generally outperform generalists. Second, with sufficiently efficient social interaction and coordination, the group of specialists generally outperforms the group of generalists. Thus systems designed as ANTS arebuilt from potentially very large numbers of highly autonomous, yet socially interactive, elements. The architecture is self-similar in that elements and sub-elements of the system may also be recursively structured as ANTS on scales ranging from microscopic to interplanetary distances.
Links and further details at the web-site.