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  1. At the macroscale, controlling robotic swarms typically uses substantial memory, processing power, and coordination unavailable at the microscale, e.g., for colloidal robots, which could be useful for fighting disease, fabricating intelligent textiles, and designing nanocomputers. To develop principles that can leverage physical interactions and thus be used across scales, we take a two-pronged approach: a theoretical abstraction of self-organizing particle systems and an experimental robot system of active cohesive granular matter that intentionally lacks digital electronic computation and communication, using minimal (or no) sensing and control. As predicted by theory, as interparticle attraction increases, the collective transitions from dispersed to a compact phase. When aggregated, the collective can transport non-robot “impurities,” thus performing an emergent task driven by the physics underlying the transition. These results reveal a fruitful interplay between algorithm design and active matter robophysics that can result in principles for programming collectives without the need for complex algorithms or capabilities.
  2. We present and rigorously analyze the behavior of a distributed, stochastic algorithm for separation and integration in self-organizing particle systems, an abstraction of programmable matter. Such systems are composed of individual computational particles with limited memory, strictly local communication abilities, and modest computational power. We consider heterogeneous particle systems of two different colors and prove that these systems can collectively separate into different color classes or integrate, indifferent to color. We accomplish both behaviors with the same fully distributed, local, stochastic algorithm. Achieving separation or integration depends only on a single global parameter determining whether particles prefer to be next to other particles of the same color or not; this parameter is meant to represent external, environmental influences on the particle system. The algorithm is a generalization of a previous distributed, stochastic algorithm for compression (PODC '16), which can be viewed as a special case of separation where all particles have the same color. It is significantly more challenging to prove that the desired behavior is achieved in the heterogeneous setting, however, even in the bichromatic case we focus on. This requires combining several new techniques, including the cluster expansion from statistical physics, a new variant of the bridging argumentmore »of Miracle, Pascoe and Randall (RANDOM '11), the high-temperature expansion of the Ising model, and careful probabilistic arguments.« less
  3. This is a chapter in Book "Distributed Computing by Mobile Entities: Current Research in Moving and Computing", Springer Nature. The vision for programmable matter is to realize a physical substance that is scalable, versatile, instantly reconfigurable, safe to handle, and robust to failures. Programmable matter could be deployed in a variety of domain spaces to address a wide gamut of problems, including applications in construction, environmental science, synthetic biology, and space exploration. However, there are considerable engineering and computational challenges that must be overcome before such a system could be implemented. Towards developing efficient algorithms for novel programmable matter behaviors, the amoebot model for self-organizing particle systems and its variant, hybrid programmable matter, provide formal computational frameworks that facilitate rigorous algorithmic research. In this chapter, we discuss distributed algorithms under these models for shape formation, shape recognition, object coating, compression, shortcut bridging, and separation in addition to some underlying algorithmic primitives.