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Duration:04:27
Uploaded:2014-08-22
Last sync:2023-01-08 09:00
Hank shares the nuts-and-bolts of the world’s first robot swarm, and explains what the creepy, cute and extinct animal known as Hallucigenia can teach us about evolution.

Hosted by: Hank Green
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Sources:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-08/hu-ast081214.php
http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2014-08/uoc-nhf081514.php
http://news.sciencemag.org/technology/2014/08/heads-gathering-robot-swarm
http://www.nature.com/news/researchers-create-1-000-robot-swarm-1.15714
[Intro]

Good news, everyone, the robot apocalypse is now closer than ever!

If you haven't seen it yet, behold the wonder of the world's first ever robot swarm. Last week in the journal Science, engineers at Harvard said they designed 1,024 tiny robots that are able to organize themselves into any pattern they're instructed to make, without any human interaction. It's being hailed as a milestone in collective artificial intelligence and it makes me kinda want to find Sarah Connor and drive her over to SciShow's secret safe-house in the desert. At the same time, somehow, it's kind of adorable?

The robots, nicknamed Kilobots, which just seems like a bad decision to me, are small, just a few centimeters across, cheap to make, and very simple. They can communicate with each other using infrared signals and follow the same basic principles that ants, fish, and even individual cells can use to organize themselves.

Namely, the Harvard engineers programmed each Kilobot to do three relatively simple things: figure out where it is in relation to its fellow robots, identify the edge of the group of robots, and then move along that edge until it finds a spot where it's allowed to stop.

The Kilobots were given instructions to make a certain shape, and four seed robots were set as the markers where the formation was supposed to start. After that, the bots just started to to move arbitrarily, following the outer edge of the group until it reached a coordinate that filled in the shape they were trying to make. Within a few hours, all one thousand-plus robots followed this pattern until the shape was complete.

It's the first time that such a large group of robots have been shown to follow a collective algorithm, or a shared set of instructions and rules, and the engineers say this technology could someday be used to have robots build buildings, conduct search and rescue on their own or even form a network of self-driving vehicles. Just a note to humanity: please don't let them achieve consciousness.

Nature has a lot of amazing tricks that we can learn from, but every now and then we find something in nature that we just can't figure out. Meet Hallucigenia, a creature that looks like something Hieronymus Bosch would have dreamt up after eating a whole pepperoni pizza before bed.

This bizarre little thing isn't around anymore, which is kind of too bad because I would like to play with one, but it lived on the ocean floor around 505 million years ago. It was discovered in a Canadian fossil in the 1970's, and the scientists named it Hallucigenia because they could not believe what they were seeing.

It had a tail but no apparent head, sharp spines on its back, and six or seven pairs of long, gangly legs. To give you a sense of how perplexing this organism was, it took years for biologists to realize that they were actually looking at it upside-down. At first, they thought the animal's legs were tentacles on its back, and its tail was its head, but this week in the journal Nature, zoologists from the University of Cambridge say that they have finally figured out what Hallucigenia was and where it fits on the tree of life.

The more we understand the evolutionary relationships of living things, including these extinct outliers, the clearer picture we get of the history of life on Earth, and for decades scientists have been stumped about where this creature fits in the bigger picture because it doesn't seem to share any obvious physical traits with any known animals. For this reason, it's been described as an "evolutionary misfit," but in their search for some anatomical clues, the Cambridge researchers zeroed-in on a feature of Hallucigenia that had never before been studied - its feet. Actually, claws.

Microscopic analysis of its claws showed that they were made of layers of protein arranged in cone-shaped stacks, making a structure that one scientist described as a "conical onion," and it turns out that the same structure survives today in one other group of animals - Velvet Worms, obscure segmented creatures that live in tropical forests. They look kinda like caterpillars or worms with feet, but they're actually more closely related to one SciShow's favorite animals - the tardigrade.

But the claw-like features that velvet worms have aren't found on their cute little feet; they show up in their mouth parts, which are modified legs that have turned into appendages used for feeding. So all this means that Hallucigenia wasn't some evolutionary dead-end but actually has living relatives, which include some of the most adorable and resilient little creatures on the planet.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow News, if you want to keep getting your science straight with us, you can go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe.