When we think of robots, we think of a kid-sized chunk of metal that beeps and blinks, like R2D2 in Star Wars. But robots come in all shapes and sizes — including this batch of 1,024 mini-robots, each of which is only as wide as a quarter (about 1 inch). They were created by roboticist Mike Rubenstein, who calls these little guys “kilobots” to sound like the computer word “kilobyte.” The robots move by vibrating, which makes them slide across the table, but what’s really cool is why they move: to form shapes. They come together by reading a computer program you signal to them and by using sensors to see each other. They can gather in the shape of a star, or a letter of the alphabet, or a wrench. That last one is the best: maybe these robots can snap together to make different tools, like for astronauts up in space. They take hours to build these shapes, though, so hopefully that wrench isn’t a total emergency.
Wee ones: What shape are these robots when you look at them from above?
Little kids: If you and a friend take one of these 3-legged kilobots for a walk, how many legs do you have all together? Bonus: If you wanted to bring 20 kilobots in total to make a shovel, how many more bots do you need in addition to that 1st robot?
Big kids: Can you tell what’s cool about the number 1,024? What factors does it have (what numbers divide into it evenly)? Bonus: If you wanted all those bots to make a perfect square, how many bots wide would that square be?
Wee ones: Circles.
Little kids: 7 legs in total. Bonus: 19 more bots.
Big kids: It’s 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2! i.e. ten 2s multiplied together (2 to the 10th power). Bonus: 32 bots wide. Since 1,024 is the product of ten 2s, that means it’s five 2s times five 2s.