A few years ago, SRI International introduced their MicroFactory platform, which uses hundreds of tiny robots (each one smaller than a dime) that cooperate to build macro-scale structures, like trusses, which can even contain integrated electronics. Such complex manufacturing requires cooperation between many different micro robots, each one outfitted to perform a specific task. Building a bunch of little custom bots is, we have to assume, a little bit tedious, so SRI has developed a tool shop for their MicroFactory that can make custom end-effectors for micro robots on-demand.
SRI’s micro robots are really just small magnets: all of the intelligence is built into the substrate that they travel on. Printed circuit boards drive them along electromagnetically, with the ability to control their speed and movement in two axes as well as rotationally.