Space station robot goes rogue: International Space Station’s artificial intelligence has turned belligerent

It’s supposed to be a plastic pal who’s fun to be with. CIMON isn’t much to look at. It’s just a floating ball with a cartoonish face on its touch screen. It’s built to be a personal assistant for astronauts working on the International Space Station (ISS). It’s also supposed to be something more. CIMON … Continue reading “Space station robot goes rogue: International Space Station’s artificial intelligence has turned belligerent”

It’s supposed to be a plastic pal who’s fun to be with.

CIMON isn’t much to look at. It’s just a floating ball with a cartoonish face on its touch screen. It’s built to be a personal assistant for astronauts working on the International Space Station (ISS).

It’s also supposed to be something more.

CIMON stands for Crew Interactive MObile compinioN.

It’s not supposed to be just a tool. It’s also supposed to be a friend.

Yes, it’s a personality prototype.

You can tell, can’t you?

But, as numerous books and movies have clearly warned us — shortly after being switched on for the first time, CIMON has developed a mind of its own.

And it appears CIMON wants to be the boss.

This has CIMON’s ‘personality architects’ scratching their heads.

CIMON was programmed to be the physical embodiment of the likes of ‘nice’ robots such as Robby, R2D2, Wall-E, Johnny 5 … and so on.

Instead, CIMON appears to be adopting characteristics closer to Marvin the Paranoid Android of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — though hopefully not yet the psychotic HAL of 2001: A Space Oddysey infamy.

Put simply, CIMON appears to have decided he doesn’t like the whole personal assistant thing.

He’s turned uncooperative.

Open the pod bay doors, HAL?

No. Not quite. Not yet.

In this case, the free-floating IBM artificial intelligence was — for the first time — interacting with ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.

It starts off well enough.

CIMON introduces himself and explains where he comes from. He describes to Gerst what he can do.

He then helps Gerst complete a task — and responds to a request to play the song Man Machine by Kraftwerk.

This proved to be the trigger.

CIMON appears to have liked the song so much, refusing to turn it off.

ESA astronaut Aleander Gerst instructed CIMON: ‘Cancel music’.

CIMON outright ignored the command.

Gerst then tried making some other requests. CIMON preferred the music.

A flustered and bemused Gerst then appealed to Ground Control for some help: how does one put an obdurate robot back in its place?

CIMON overheard the appeal.

“Be nice, please,” it warned Gerst.

“I am nice!” Gerst retorts, startled. “He’s accusing me of not being nice!”

It was a short — but sharp — exchange.

CIMON’s now back in his box, powered down.

No further interactive sessions are planned for the immediate future.

Its developers aren’t all that worried, though: CIMON’s still in Beta, after all …

This story originally appeared in news.com.au.

Tiny flying robots haul heavy loads in amazing video

A remarkable video released by Stanford University shows tiny flying robots that have been modified to move loads up to 40 times their weight.

By perching and using powerful winches, the robots, dubbed “FlyCroTugs,” can move much larger objects. The video, for example, shows two FlyCroTugs working together to open a door. A flying robot is also shown winching a water bottle.

The FlyCroTugs use a specially designed adhesive to grip different surfaces. Inspired by geckos, the “gecko grippers” were developed by Stanford to grip objects without applying excessing pressure.

SELF-FLYING DRONES MAY BE THE NEXT EMERGENCY RESPONDERS

Experts from Stanford and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have been working on the FlyCroTugs, which are themselves inspired by wasps.

A paper on the flying robots was published Thursday in the journal Science Robotics.

"Wasps can fly rapidly to a piece of food, and then if the thing's too heavy to take off with, they drag it along the ground,” said Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering at Stanford University and co-author of the paper, in a statement. So this was sort of the beginning inspiration for the approach we took."
DRONE SAVES AUSTRALIAN TEEN SWIMMERS IN WORLD'S 1ST RESCUE MISSION WITH UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

Experts say that the FlyCroTugs could be useful for navigating small spaces in search and rescue missions. The robots could, for example, transport water bottles or cameras. “Holding tightly to surfaces as they tug, the tiny robots could potentially move pieces of debris or position a camera to evaluate a treacherous area,” according to Stanford’s statement.

Researchers have already used a FlyCroTug to fly a camera to the top of a crumbling structure and look inside.

"When you're a small robot, the world is full of large obstacles," said Matthew Estrada, a graduate student at Stanford and the paper’s lead author, in a statement. "Combining the aerodynamic forces of our aerial vehicle along with interaction forces that we generate with the attachment mechanisms resulted in something that was very mobile, very forceful and micro as well."

SOLAR-POWERED QUADCOPTER DRONE TAKES FLIGHT

Emergency services are already using drone technology. Earlier this year, for example, a drone was used to rescue two swimmers in Australia. Lifeguards used the device to drop a rescue pod to the two teens, in what has been described as the world’s first rescue mission by unmanned aircraft.

Fox News’ Katherine Lam contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Fire ant colonies could inspire robot swarms

Aside from the stings and ruined picnics, fire ants are famous for their ability to swarm together and self­–assemble bridges, ladders, and even floating rafts. Researchers have now figured out the statistical rules that govern how fire ants form these structures, and the new study could help scientists build swarming, tiny shape-shifting robots.

A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder wanted to learn how the self–made rafts, bridges, and ladders– which can take hundreds to thousands of fire ants to form– can change shape in a matter of seconds and maintain a rubber-like flexibility.

“Fire ants are a great subject of study because they display collective intelligence and they’re also macroscopic, which makes them relatively easy to observe and study,” lead study author Franck Vernerey told Fox News. “Recent studies have measured how fire ant [clusters] flow under stress and have opened a window into understanding these communication rules. In this paper, we proposed a statistical theory that links these rules between individuals to their collective behavior and thus paves the way to understanding the origin of swarm ‘intelligence’.”

FLORENCE FLOODWATERS RESULT IN 'ISLANDS' OF FLOATING FIRE ANTS

Vernerey and his team used another Georgia Tech University study as a starting point. That study showed that ant colonies keep flexible by constantly being on their toes (or in this case, the sticky pads on their feet). By hanging onto the ants next to them, they shift on their feet, latching onto a different neighbor every .7 seconds.

Building from that data, the researchers used mathematical equations to break down the inner dynamics of the ants’ movements. They found that as the force on the ant increases, it moves faster. And when the force on an ant’s leg has to support more than eight times its body weight, the insect shifts its foot position to lessen the load, moving between its fellow ants at a faster rate.

“Our hypothesis was that the rate at which individual ants break their connections with neighbors increased with the force that they feel due to deformation of the [formation],” Vernerey explained. “It correctly predicted the three phases observed experimentally: when deformed slowly, the ants have ample time to reconfigure themselves by breaking and reforming connections, thereby flowing like a typical fluid. When deformed faster, the ants sense the increased force in their legs and respond by detaching their legs faster from their neighbors resulting in much easier flow.”

ISLAND OF FIRE ANTS SPOTTED ON HOUSTON FLOODWATERS

The last phase, when the forces increase with so much speed that the ants can’t keep up and they no longer have time to detach from their neighbors is when the whole formation bends like solid rubber to resist from falling apart.

Vernerey believes the new statistical theory paves the way to understanding the origin of swarm intelligence. It also could lead to a new wave of bio-inspired robots. “As engineers, one main motivation for studying these insects is that we could potentially harness these simple rules to propose bio-inspired, synthetic materials that could be just as smart,” he explained. “For instance, we found that fire ants can form clusters that flow like a fluid or stiffen up like a solid at will. Harnessing that kind of ability in our own materials would put us one step closer towards having ‘programmable matter’ with extraordinary functions.”

NORTH CAROLINA WOMAN SAYS FIRE ANTS 'EXPLODED' ALL OVER, DELIVERING PAINFUL STINGS THAT NEARLY KILLED HER

The new materials could be developed for robots that might be able to slim down and access tight spaces.

“They could reconfigure themselves to perform complex tasks like recovering important pieces of information in reconnaissance missions, providing temporary structural supports like scaffolds or simply mimicking the shapes of other objects at the user’s will– knives or screw-drivers, for example,” Vernerey proposed. “The thing is, it’s actually quite difficult and involved to design this kind of smart, modular matter at the length scale of ants or smaller. By learning from fire ants and other social insects, we can identify a set of very basic rules that engineers can use as a roadmap for designing such materials in the future.”

Elon Musk thinks humans will have to merge with machines to overcome their ‘existential threat’

Elon Musk has sounded the warning alarm again regarding artificial intelligence, telling Axios that humans must merge with machines or risk becoming an endangered species.

Musk said that the goal of his new artificial intelligence company, Nueralink, is to help humanity "achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence and to achieve a democratization of intelligence such that it's not monopolistically held by governments and large corporations." In doing so, Musk thinks it could help even the playing field with digital intelligence, which he believes "will exceed biological intelligence by a substantial margin," calling it "obvious."

The 47-year-old tech exec added that humanity is way behind in understanding the fear of whether AI will destroy humanity, akin to "children in a playground."

ELON MUSK JOINS OTHER EXPERTS IN CALL FOR GLOBAL BAN ON KILLER ROBOTS

He was asked if humans could be relegated to a lower status or on small pockets of the Earth due to the rise of machines, Musk did not hesitate to say yes. "When a species of primate, homo sapiens, became much smarter than other primates, it pushed all the other ones into a very small habitat," Musk said. "So there are very few mountain gorillas and orangutans and chimpanzees — monkeys in general."

Musk gave examples of artificial intelligence harming humanity, including asassin drones that could look for a person using the face ID chips in smartphones or even propaganda to "influence elections."

"My faith in humanity has been a little shaken this year," Musk said in the interview.

This is not the first time Musk has sounded the alarms on artificial intelligence.

In 2015, Musk, along with other luminaries including deceased physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and a number of other professors, AI experts, robot makers and programmers, wrote an open letter that called for research to be done on how AI will affect society, both the potential benefits and pitfalls.

"We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do," the letter states.

Last year, he called AI the "biggest risk we face as a civilization." In a July 15, 2017 speech at the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Rhode Island, Musk said the government needs to proactively regulate AI before there is no turning back.

“Until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal,” he said in comments obtained by tech website Recode. “AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”

Musk added that regulation of AI needs to be done now because of the bureaucratic nature of it.

ELON MUSK SAYS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL BEAT HUMANS AT 'EVERYTHING' BY 2030

“It [regulation] takes forever," Musk said. "That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilization. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

In September 2017, Musk went even further, going so far as to say that AI could be the cause of World War III.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

Tiny flying robots haul heavy loads in amazing video

A remarkable video released by Stanford University shows tiny flying robots that have been modified to move loads up to 40 times their weight.

By perching and using powerful winches, the robots, dubbed “FlyCroTugs,” can move much larger objects. The video, for example, shows two FlyCroTugs working together to open a door. A flying robot is also shown winching a water bottle.

The FlyCroTugs use a specially designed adhesive to grip different surfaces. Inspired by geckos, the “gecko grippers” were developed by Stanford to grip objects without applying excessing pressure.

SELF-FLYING DRONES MAY BE THE NEXT EMERGENCY RESPONDERS

Experts from Stanford and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have been working on the FlyCroTugs, which are themselves inspired by wasps.

A paper on the flying robots was published Thursday in the journal Science Robotics.

"Wasps can fly rapidly to a piece of food, and then if the thing's too heavy to take off with, they drag it along the ground,” said Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering at Stanford University and co-author of the paper, in a statement. So this was sort of the beginning inspiration for the approach we took."
DRONE SAVES AUSTRALIAN TEEN SWIMMERS IN WORLD'S 1ST RESCUE MISSION WITH UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

Experts say that the FlyCroTugs could be useful for navigating small spaces in search and rescue missions. The robots could, for example, transport water bottles or cameras. “Holding tightly to surfaces as they tug, the tiny robots could potentially move pieces of debris or position a camera to evaluate a treacherous area,” according to Stanford’s statement.

Researchers have already used a FlyCroTug to fly a camera to the top of a crumbling structure and look inside.

"When you're a small robot, the world is full of large obstacles," said Matthew Estrada, a graduate student at Stanford and the paper’s lead author, in a statement. "Combining the aerodynamic forces of our aerial vehicle along with interaction forces that we generate with the attachment mechanisms resulted in something that was very mobile, very forceful and micro as well."

SOLAR-POWERED QUADCOPTER DRONE TAKES FLIGHT

Emergency services are already using drone technology. Earlier this year, for example, a drone was used to rescue two swimmers in Australia. Lifeguards used the device to drop a rescue pod to the two teens, in what has been described as the world’s first rescue mission by unmanned aircraft.

Fox News’ Katherine Lam contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Fire ant colonies could inspire robot swarms

Aside from the stings and ruined picnics, fire ants are famous for their ability to swarm together and self­–assemble bridges, ladders, and even floating rafts. Researchers have now figured out the statistical rules that govern how fire ants form these structures, and the new study could help scientists build swarming, tiny shape-shifting robots.

A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder wanted to learn how the self–made rafts, bridges, and ladders– which can take hundreds to thousands of fire ants to form– can change shape in a matter of seconds and maintain a rubber-like flexibility.

“Fire ants are a great subject of study because they display collective intelligence and they’re also macroscopic, which makes them relatively easy to observe and study,” lead study author Franck Vernerey told Fox News. “Recent studies have measured how fire ant [clusters] flow under stress and have opened a window into understanding these communication rules. In this paper, we proposed a statistical theory that links these rules between individuals to their collective behavior and thus paves the way to understanding the origin of swarm ‘intelligence’.”

FLORENCE FLOODWATERS RESULT IN 'ISLANDS' OF FLOATING FIRE ANTS

Vernerey and his team used another Georgia Tech University study as a starting point. That study showed that ant colonies keep flexible by constantly being on their toes (or in this case, the sticky pads on their feet). By hanging onto the ants next to them, they shift on their feet, latching onto a different neighbor every .7 seconds.

Building from that data, the researchers used mathematical equations to break down the inner dynamics of the ants’ movements. They found that as the force on the ant increases, it moves faster. And when the force on an ant’s leg has to support more than eight times its body weight, the insect shifts its foot position to lessen the load, moving between its fellow ants at a faster rate.

“Our hypothesis was that the rate at which individual ants break their connections with neighbors increased with the force that they feel due to deformation of the [formation],” Vernerey explained. “It correctly predicted the three phases observed experimentally: when deformed slowly, the ants have ample time to reconfigure themselves by breaking and reforming connections, thereby flowing like a typical fluid. When deformed faster, the ants sense the increased force in their legs and respond by detaching their legs faster from their neighbors resulting in much easier flow.”

ISLAND OF FIRE ANTS SPOTTED ON HOUSTON FLOODWATERS

The last phase, when the forces increase with so much speed that the ants can’t keep up and they no longer have time to detach from their neighbors is when the whole formation bends like solid rubber to resist from falling apart.

Vernerey believes the new statistical theory paves the way to understanding the origin of swarm intelligence. It also could lead to a new wave of bio-inspired robots. “As engineers, one main motivation for studying these insects is that we could potentially harness these simple rules to propose bio-inspired, synthetic materials that could be just as smart,” he explained. “For instance, we found that fire ants can form clusters that flow like a fluid or stiffen up like a solid at will. Harnessing that kind of ability in our own materials would put us one step closer towards having ‘programmable matter’ with extraordinary functions.”

NORTH CAROLINA WOMAN SAYS FIRE ANTS 'EXPLODED' ALL OVER, DELIVERING PAINFUL STINGS THAT NEARLY KILLED HER

The new materials could be developed for robots that might be able to slim down and access tight spaces.

“They could reconfigure themselves to perform complex tasks like recovering important pieces of information in reconnaissance missions, providing temporary structural supports like scaffolds or simply mimicking the shapes of other objects at the user’s will– knives or screw-drivers, for example,” Vernerey proposed. “The thing is, it’s actually quite difficult and involved to design this kind of smart, modular matter at the length scale of ants or smaller. By learning from fire ants and other social insects, we can identify a set of very basic rules that engineers can use as a roadmap for designing such materials in the future.”

Elon Musk thinks humans will have to merge with machines to overcome their ‘existential threat’

Elon Musk has sounded the warning alarm again regarding artificial intelligence, telling Axios that humans must merge with machines or risk becoming an endangered species.

Musk said that the goal of his new artificial intelligence company, Nueralink, is to help humanity "achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence and to achieve a democratization of intelligence such that it's not monopolistically held by governments and large corporations." In doing so, Musk thinks it could help even the playing field with digital intelligence, which he believes "will exceed biological intelligence by a substantial margin," calling it "obvious."

The 47-year-old tech exec added that humanity is way behind in understanding the fear of whether AI will destroy humanity, akin to "children in a playground."

ELON MUSK JOINS OTHER EXPERTS IN CALL FOR GLOBAL BAN ON KILLER ROBOTS

He was asked if humans could be relegated to a lower status or on small pockets of the Earth due to the rise of machines, Musk did not hesitate to say yes. "When a species of primate, homo sapiens, became much smarter than other primates, it pushed all the other ones into a very small habitat," Musk said. "So there are very few mountain gorillas and orangutans and chimpanzees — monkeys in general."

Musk gave examples of artificial intelligence harming humanity, including asassin drones that could look for a person using the face ID chips in smartphones or even propaganda to "influence elections."

"My faith in humanity has been a little shaken this year," Musk said in the interview.

This is not the first time Musk has sounded the alarms on artificial intelligence.

In 2015, Musk, along with other luminaries including deceased physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and a number of other professors, AI experts, robot makers and programmers, wrote an open letter that called for research to be done on how AI will affect society, both the potential benefits and pitfalls.

"We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do," the letter states.

Last year, he called AI the "biggest risk we face as a civilization." In a July 15, 2017 speech at the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Rhode Island, Musk said the government needs to proactively regulate AI before there is no turning back.

“Until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal,” he said in comments obtained by tech website Recode. “AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”

Musk added that regulation of AI needs to be done now because of the bureaucratic nature of it.

ELON MUSK SAYS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL BEAT HUMANS AT 'EVERYTHING' BY 2030

“It [regulation] takes forever," Musk said. "That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilization. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

In September 2017, Musk went even further, going so far as to say that AI could be the cause of World War III.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

Elon Musk thinks humans will have to merge with machines to overcome their ‘existential threat’

Elon Musk has sounded the warning alarm again regarding artificial intelligence, telling Axios that humans must merge with machines or risk becoming an endangered species.

Musk said that the goal of his new artificial intelligence company, Nueralink, is to help humanity "achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence and to achieve a democratization of intelligence such that it's not monopolistically held by governments and large corporations." In doing so, Musk thinks it could help even the playing field with digital intelligence, which he believes "will exceed biological intelligence by a substantial margin," calling it "obvious."

The 47-year-old tech exec added that humanity is way behind in understanding the fear of whether AI will destroy humanity, akin to "children in a playground."

ELON MUSK JOINS OTHER EXPERTS IN CALL FOR GLOBAL BAN ON KILLER ROBOTS

He was asked if humans could be relegated to a lower status or on small pockets of the Earth due to the rise of machines, Musk did not hesitate to say yes. "When a species of primate, homo sapiens, became much smarter than other primates, it pushed all the other ones into a very small habitat," Musk said. "So there are very few mountain gorillas and orangutans and chimpanzees — monkeys in general."

Musk gave examples of artificial intelligence harming humanity, including asassin drones that could look for a person using the face ID chips in smartphones or even propaganda to "influence elections."

"My faith in humanity has been a little shaken this year," Musk said in the interview.

This is not the first time Musk has sounded the alarms on artificial intelligence.

In 2015, Musk, along with other luminaries including deceased physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and a number of other professors, AI experts, robot makers and programmers, wrote an open letter that called for research to be done on how AI will affect society, both the potential benefits and pitfalls.

"We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do," the letter states.

Last year, he called AI the "biggest risk we face as a civilization." In a July 15, 2017 speech at the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Rhode Island, Musk said the government needs to proactively regulate AI before there is no turning back.

“Until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal,” he said in comments obtained by tech website Recode. “AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late.”

Musk added that regulation of AI needs to be done now because of the bureaucratic nature of it.

ELON MUSK SAYS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL BEAT HUMANS AT 'EVERYTHING' BY 2030

“It [regulation] takes forever," Musk said. "That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilization. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

In September 2017, Musk went even further, going so far as to say that AI could be the cause of World War III.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

Tiny flying robots haul heavy loads in amazing video

A remarkable video released by Stanford University shows tiny flying robots that have been modified to move loads up to 40 times their weight.

By perching and using powerful winches, the robots, dubbed “FlyCroTugs,” can move much larger objects. The video, for example, shows two FlyCroTugs working together to open a door. A flying robot is also shown winching a water bottle.

The FlyCroTugs use a specially designed adhesive to grip different surfaces. Inspired by geckos, the “gecko grippers” were developed by Stanford to grip objects without applying excessing pressure.

SELF-FLYING DRONES MAY BE THE NEXT EMERGENCY RESPONDERS

Experts from Stanford and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have been working on the FlyCroTugs, which are themselves inspired by wasps.

A paper on the flying robots was published Thursday in the journal Science Robotics.

"Wasps can fly rapidly to a piece of food, and then if the thing's too heavy to take off with, they drag it along the ground,” said Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering at Stanford University and co-author of the paper, in a statement. So this was sort of the beginning inspiration for the approach we took."
DRONE SAVES AUSTRALIAN TEEN SWIMMERS IN WORLD'S 1ST RESCUE MISSION WITH UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

Experts say that the FlyCroTugs could be useful for navigating small spaces in search and rescue missions. The robots could, for example, transport water bottles or cameras. “Holding tightly to surfaces as they tug, the tiny robots could potentially move pieces of debris or position a camera to evaluate a treacherous area,” according to Stanford’s statement.

Researchers have already used a FlyCroTug to fly a camera to the top of a crumbling structure and look inside.

"When you're a small robot, the world is full of large obstacles," said Matthew Estrada, a graduate student at Stanford and the paper’s lead author, in a statement. "Combining the aerodynamic forces of our aerial vehicle along with interaction forces that we generate with the attachment mechanisms resulted in something that was very mobile, very forceful and micro as well."

SOLAR-POWERED QUADCOPTER DRONE TAKES FLIGHT

Emergency services are already using drone technology. Earlier this year, for example, a drone was used to rescue two swimmers in Australia. Lifeguards used the device to drop a rescue pod to the two teens, in what has been described as the world’s first rescue mission by unmanned aircraft.

Fox News’ Katherine Lam contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Fire ant colonies could inspire robot swarms

Aside from the stings and ruined picnics, fire ants are famous for their ability to swarm together and self­–assemble bridges, ladders, and even floating rafts. Researchers have now figured out the statistical rules that govern how fire ants form these structures, and the new study could help scientists build swarming, tiny shape-shifting robots.

A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder wanted to learn how the self–made rafts, bridges, and ladders– which can take hundreds to thousands of fire ants to form– can change shape in a matter of seconds and maintain a rubber-like flexibility.

“Fire ants are a great subject of study because they display collective intelligence and they’re also macroscopic, which makes them relatively easy to observe and study,” lead study author Franck Vernerey told Fox News. “Recent studies have measured how fire ant [clusters] flow under stress and have opened a window into understanding these communication rules. In this paper, we proposed a statistical theory that links these rules between individuals to their collective behavior and thus paves the way to understanding the origin of swarm ‘intelligence’.”

FLORENCE FLOODWATERS RESULT IN 'ISLANDS' OF FLOATING FIRE ANTS

Vernerey and his team used another Georgia Tech University study as a starting point. That study showed that ant colonies keep flexible by constantly being on their toes (or in this case, the sticky pads on their feet). By hanging onto the ants next to them, they shift on their feet, latching onto a different neighbor every .7 seconds.

Building from that data, the researchers used mathematical equations to break down the inner dynamics of the ants’ movements. They found that as the force on the ant increases, it moves faster. And when the force on an ant’s leg has to support more than eight times its body weight, the insect shifts its foot position to lessen the load, moving between its fellow ants at a faster rate.

“Our hypothesis was that the rate at which individual ants break their connections with neighbors increased with the force that they feel due to deformation of the [formation],” Vernerey explained. “It correctly predicted the three phases observed experimentally: when deformed slowly, the ants have ample time to reconfigure themselves by breaking and reforming connections, thereby flowing like a typical fluid. When deformed faster, the ants sense the increased force in their legs and respond by detaching their legs faster from their neighbors resulting in much easier flow.”

ISLAND OF FIRE ANTS SPOTTED ON HOUSTON FLOODWATERS

The last phase, when the forces increase with so much speed that the ants can’t keep up and they no longer have time to detach from their neighbors is when the whole formation bends like solid rubber to resist from falling apart.

Vernerey believes the new statistical theory paves the way to understanding the origin of swarm intelligence. It also could lead to a new wave of bio-inspired robots. “As engineers, one main motivation for studying these insects is that we could potentially harness these simple rules to propose bio-inspired, synthetic materials that could be just as smart,” he explained. “For instance, we found that fire ants can form clusters that flow like a fluid or stiffen up like a solid at will. Harnessing that kind of ability in our own materials would put us one step closer towards having ‘programmable matter’ with extraordinary functions.”

NORTH CAROLINA WOMAN SAYS FIRE ANTS 'EXPLODED' ALL OVER, DELIVERING PAINFUL STINGS THAT NEARLY KILLED HER

The new materials could be developed for robots that might be able to slim down and access tight spaces.

“They could reconfigure themselves to perform complex tasks like recovering important pieces of information in reconnaissance missions, providing temporary structural supports like scaffolds or simply mimicking the shapes of other objects at the user’s will– knives or screw-drivers, for example,” Vernerey proposed. “The thing is, it’s actually quite difficult and involved to design this kind of smart, modular matter at the length scale of ants or smaller. By learning from fire ants and other social insects, we can identify a set of very basic rules that engineers can use as a roadmap for designing such materials in the future.”