TECH

Robots Dance To Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' Using Quorum Sensing To Stay In Step (VIDEO)

05/31/2012 05:36 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2012

This dance routine may be cute and entertaining, but for once, Internet eye candy is not entirely useless.

Scientists at MIT's Nonlinear Networks Lab have programmed a troupe of humanoid Nao robots -- made by a French company called Aldebaran-- to dance in synchrony to Michael Jackson's mega-hit "Thriller."

While at first glance this might not seem any more exciting than a flash mob, Time's Techland blog notes "these machines can actually judge if they are a step or two behind the rest of the dancers and catch up."

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So does that mean they're... thinking? Well, only on about the level of bacteria.

MIT's Patrick Bechon and Jean-Jacques Slotine programmed the robots to utilize quorum sensing, which means that individual robots emit and receive data to figure out what others in the group are doing.

Similar communication is used by bacteria and social insects. Phys.Org explains:

"...organisms emit a small number of molecules into the environment which the others can sense. The more members of the group, the more molecules are present, which lets each member know how many others are there and when it’s time to do something."

By comparison, the robot "swarm" synchronizes with a global average time kept by a central server. But instead of being slaves to a master signal, the robots contribute to the average. So while they are all marching to the same beat, each robot has his own drum.

"If the connection to the central [server] is lost, the robots simply continue with routine but without centralised synchrony," according to the MIT Technology Review.

In the video, a man purposefully disrupts a robot mid-performance. The little guy takes a minute to get his bearings, but it eventually rejoins the troupe perfectly on beat.

Yes, the dance is pretty cool to watch, but advances in robotics technology could mean big things for the future, too.

If humanoid robots can be synchronized to do the same task, then they can be synchronized to do related tasks, creating opportunities for applications in industries like manufacturing and construction, according to the MIT Technology Review.

WATCH: 'Thriller' Dancing Robots Stay In Step With Quorum Sensing:

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