London, March 13 : The European Union is funding a 4.6million-pound project to develop a prototype team of self-organising, shape-changing mini robots that work as a team.
The results of the Symbrion programme are expected to be seen by 2013.
It is believed that the self-healing robots will be able to dock with each other, share energy, and co-operate to maximise their abilities to achieve different tasks.
Researchers from 10 universities are associated with the project. They say that future applications include search and rescue missions, space exploration, and medicine.
"A swarm could be released into a collapsed building following an earthquake. They could form themselves into teams searching for survivors or to lift rubble off stranded people," the Telegraph quoted Professor Alan Winfield of the University of the West of England, Bristol, as saying.
"Some robots might form a chain allowing rescue workers to communicate with survivors while others assemble themselves into a 'medicine bot' to give first aid. The robots have functionality on their own, but they can also combine together or adapt and change as the situation requires. The individual robots won't change physically, but they will adapt and evolve their functionally," he added.
Experts working on the project will develop software that allow individual robots, an inch square in size, to collaborate and use their different attributes to maximise their performance.
The work will be carried out keeping in mind that the principle remains capable of being applied to both hardware and software, as well as allows groups of robots collaborate without human supervision in accordance with the situation they face.
Professor Winfield has denied speculations that the groups of small robots might be harmful to humans. He, however, says that scientists cannot take responsibility for how people decide to use them.
"It might sound like something scary from science fiction but it's not, it's just a complex engineering system. It will have to go through safety and validation assessments before it would be used in real-life situations," he said.
"As scientists we behave ethically but we can't determine how these things might be used. That is a question for wider society to determine," he added.
He reckons that the first robot swarms may be ready for use in real-life situations between 10 and 15 years from now.