It seems like a lot of trouble just to retrieve a book from a shelf, but this video of a distributed parallel system–a robot swarm–pulling some Tom-Cruise-before-the-Mission-Impossible-franchise-went-off-the-rails theatrics is pretty amazing–not only for the grappling hooks and blinking lights, but because “Swarmanoid” really is a true recon robot. When switched on, it knows absolutely nothing about its environment–but give it a few minutes, and it starts working toward its objectives in all kinds of entertaining ways.

For starters, a handful of “eye-bots” reconnoiters the area, establishing where things are and–most importantly for this task–the location of a book that Swarmanoid has been instructed to retrieve. Then the rest of the system swings into action. A team of “foot-bots” figure the best way to get to the book and set up a communication network linking the whole system from its point of origin to the location of the book.

Then two “foot-bots” attach themselves to the “hand-bot” and tow it to the book, which is perched on a shelf above floor level. Will Swarmanoid succeed in its mission? We wouldn’t spoil the thrilling climax after all this build-up. Video below.

New Scientist