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These “gears” are covered with electromagnets or half-capacitors. When placed next to each other, they will cause each other to spin, depending on the state of the magnet, and propel each other.
A set of actuator stacks in action. The two cylinders do not contain any moving parts. Through the magic of Moore’s Law, researchers believe they can coat a sphere less than a millimeter in diameter with several microscopic actuators. These beads could then form an intelligent fabric.
A closeup of one of the actuators.
This, essentially, is a simulation of a robot spelling bee. The purple shaded area is actually a field of 40,000 simulated robots. They are moving around the holes, represented by black dots. The collective movement transforms five squares of robots and gets them to spell Intel.