An insect robot is a member of a team of identical robots that operates under the control of a single controller, usually for the purpose of carrying out a single task or set of tasks. Such a robot is also known as a swarm robot. The entire group of such robots is called a society, multiagent team, or swarm. In particular, the term insect robot is used in reference to systems designed by engineer Rodney Brooks. He began developing his ideas at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) during the early 1990s.

Insect robots have six legs, and some of them actually look like beetles or cockroaches. They range in length from less than 1 mm to more than 300 mm. Most significant is the fact that they work collectively, rather than as individuals.

Autonomous robots with independent controllers are “smart in the individual,” but they do not necessarily work in a team. People provide a good example. Professional sports teams have been assembled by purchasing the services of the best players in the business, but such a team rarely achieves championship status unless the players cooperate. Insects, by contrast, are “stupid in the individual.”Ants and bees are like idiot robots, but an anthill or beehive is an efficient system, run by the collective mind of all its members.

Rodney Brooks saw this fundamental difference between autonomous and collective intelligence. He also saw that most of his colleagues were trying to build autonomous robots, perhaps because of the natural tendency for humans to envision robots as humanoid. To Brooks, it was obvious that a major avenue of technology was being neglected. Thus he began designing robot teams, consisting of many units with a single controller.

Brooks is a futurist who envisions microscopic insect robots that might live in your house, coming out at night to clean your floors and countertops.“Antibody robots”of even tinier proportions could be injected into a person infected with some heretofore-incurable disease.Controlled by a central microprocessor, they could seek out the disease bacteria or viruses and swallow them up.

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