We shrugged when they learned how to use the microwave. We gave a collective “Meh” when they mastered darts. But this is something mankind can’t ignore — robots can now dance in unison to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
This development threatens to upstage hardworking Filipino prison inmates and start a wave of robotic ’80s music video reenactments. The worst thing? These robots aren’t just some animatronic dance troupe like the Country Bear Jamboree; no, these machines can actually judge if they are a step or two behind the rest of the dancers and catch up.
The NAO robots, built by Aldebaran Robotics and programmed by MIT’s Patrick Bechon and Jean-Jacques Slotine, utilize a process called quorum sensing to synchronize themselves. In nature, quorum sensing is when bacteria emit molecules into the environment so individuals can keep track of how many organisms are around them and what they’re doing.
Instead of molecules, each of these robots sends out data, which makes it possible to synchronize with the others even when one’s been removed from the group and set on its bottom. According to MIT’s Technology Review, this has implications beyond Michael Jackson dance routines:
That’s interesting because while synchrony allows large numbers of robots to do the same thing at the same time–such as dancing or marching–it also allows large number so robots to do different but related tasks at the same time.
In other words, synchrony is an enabling technology for large scale co-operation. And that opens the way to an entirely new set of tasks that robots could do–think manufacturing and construction. Perhaps even nest building.
Robot construction sites built into robot factories, which will assemble robot man-birds, who will learn to build nests to hatch robo-chicks. The end is nigh, my fellow humans. Enjoy the dance performances while they last.