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Eleven autonomous robots form a plier-like shape. Photo: Marco Dorigo and Nithin Mathews

Researchers in Brussels have designed a way for robots to merge their control systems with one another to create a larger robot. The new technology allows a robot to split into several smaller units and then merge again in different shapes and configurations.

Why it matters: Robots will eventually move out of the predictable environments of manufacturing floors and into changing worlds that will require them to adapt. That's the goal of research into autonomous, modular robots like these.

Imagine constructing a house with robots. You'd need larger machines to do the heavy lifting and smaller bots to maneuver within tight spaces in the construction process. But buying robots of several shapes, sizes and functions would quickly drive up costs. Marco Dorigo, the study's lead researcher, sees a future in which one robot could do all of the jobs: splitting into small bodies to do the little tasks and returning to full-size to do the big ones.

How it works: The new technology demonstrated that it is not the robots themselves but the robotic nervous systems that govern them. Dorigo and his colleagues have designed control systems that can communicate with one another when there is physical contact between the smaller robots. So, while the robots can act alone, they can also become a united body controlled by a single "brain" when they're attached.

What's new:

  • Existing technology either allows for a group of robots to be controlled with a central computer system or as independent entities.
  • In the first case, if the computer shuts down, so do all of the robots, but, in the second case, "there is no one in charge," Dorigo said.
  • Both systems pose problems, and the researchers tried to combine the advantages of both.
  • Their robots are autonomous but have the ability, when physical contact is established, to centralize control. Still, if one of the smaller robots breaks down, all of the others can keep doing their jobs.

What's next: Figure out how to make the robots talk to each other without physical contact, Dorigo told Axios. Such a technology might be especially useful for self-driving cars and allow the cars to put their "brains" together to enhance safety and efficiency on the road, he said.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”