Building off the idea of swarm biology, we can start developing down the path of digital biology. Within this umbrella, there are different robotic-based technologies that can facilitate simple but intelligent movement of densities with flexible and responsive architecture.
Swarm robotics is the idea of multiple robots interacting with the environment and neighboring robots around them to achieve a desired collective behavior. This is the most direct translation from swarm biology to digital biology, with simple individual rules that create complex networks of group interaction and collaboration as density grows. Constant communication and feedback allows for this swarm to become smart and self-learning.
Algorithms can vary depending on the desired collective behavior. These bots are also scalable. Swarm robots can discretely enter the body for non-invasive surgical treatment for patients, efficiently and autonomously move goods in industrial warehouses, forcefully encroach unto dangerous territory in military missions, or bravely explore space and other planets.
Autonomous information receiving and processing is at the heart of programmable matter. Programmable matter is the broader idea of matter that changes physically based on information received and transmitted according to an overall, collective goal. This opens up opportunities beyond individual modules moving together but modules that join together to form new modules, complex modules that alter their form, or concepts that don’t require traditional modules at all, such as liquid architecture.
Self-configuring modular robots rearrange their connections to other modules to change their shape and adapt to each new situation. They are typically connected as a chain or a lattice. When asked to perform a task, these bots are programmed to experiment and troubleshoot to find a way to perform these tasks, learning from their moves and correcting themselves to find the best solution. But each module is still working autonomously, communicating only with the modules it is directly attached to.
Complex, multi-material modules or entities are typically pre-programmed to change shape when certain known parameters are met. This makes them not as intelligent as the self-configuring modules but more precise in what they do and how they do it. The ability to change is embedded in their structure. 4D printing, for example, prints with both static and flexible materials in one entity. The flexible parts react to movement, temperature, or other types of energy and folds, altering the shape of the overall entity.
Smart fluids are fluids that are able to change their viscosity based on their exposure to magnetism, electricity, or light. Exposure to these elements causes the particles in the fluid to separate, polarize, and align themselves, held together by the element’s field. The ability to control the form of liquid can open up possibilities for space and structure that is quickly flexible and adaptable to its changing surroundings.
In swarm biology, we talked about the logic of the movement of density. In programmable matter, we can start talking about the logic of space and structures that can facilitate the movement of density. What is the meaning of architecture and design when we focus on dynamic occupation rather than the static occupation of a house? How can programmable matter become the medium that interacts with the dynamic occupants within them?
How can these two concepts work in concert to optimize movement in Los Angeles at various scales?