National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has revealed that it was developing an army of autonomous robots. Called “swarmies,” these robots are much smaller than the space agency’s other robots such as the car-sized Mars rover Curiosity. Each swarmie will be equipped with WiFi antenna, webcam and Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation, reports

NASA’s swarmies work like an ant colony

NASA’s new robots look like remote control car toys and are similar in size. But these swarmies have a unique capability. They can think as a group and act as a team. NASA said its robots function similar to an ant colony. When one ant encounters a food source, it instantly sends out a signal to other members of the colony. And then they all work together to haul the food back to the nest.

The swarmies run on software developed by engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The software directs them to spread out in different directions to search for a pre-determined, specific material such as ice-water. When one rover stumbles across something interesting, it sends radio signals to call other robots to help collect samples. It could one day be sent to explore other planets.

NASA’s robots could also be useful in search and rescue operations

The robots are currently in the early stage of development. Engineers are currently driving them around the parking lot at the space center, searching for bar-coded pieces of paper. Kurt Leucht, an engineer working on the project, said that initially they wanted to put as many capabilities as possible in one robot. But now they realize the importance of smaller, simpler robots which can work together. Even if one of them dies, others can keep working to accomplish the mission.

Over the next few months, NASA plans on adding RASSOR to the swarmies in the next phase. RASSOR is a mining robot designed to dig alien surfaces for materials. NSA says the swarmies could also prove useful on the Earth. They could be used in search and rescue operations. After a natural disaster or a building collapse, a group of swarmies could be sent in search of survivors.