Self-directing robots are common, but most commercial versions are given the equivalent of a central nervous system that senses goals or obstacles and directs the body accordingly. A group of Japanese researchers, however, are working on a simple robot that can ooze towards a goal with no centralized control whatsoever. The amoeboid robot — henceforth the amoebot — is a central balloon surrounded by springs and fluid-filled cylinders. It moves by shifting fluid between different parts, stretching the springs and causing the whole thing to meander towards its destination. It's also got a rudimentary sensory feedback system distributed around its body. When one of the sensors finds something it's attracted to, like light, the corresponding part of the balloon's skin goes soft, throwing off the symmetry of the robot and causing it to shift direction.
Like most experimental robots, it's very slow — the video below speeds it up to sixteen times its recorded gait. In this case, though, the researchers have an excuse: it's based on slow-moving slime mold, which can respond to its environment with surprising intelligence despite not having any kind of central brain. The team hopes that the robot, which they have been experimenting with for years, will shed new light on how decentralized control systems can be integrated into autonomous creations. The latest research was published last month in Advanced Robotics; the video below shows a version of the robot in motion about a year ago. You can skip about a minute in to see it crawling towards its unknown goal.