By restoring power, these robots may help in the search and rescue operations following a crisis.

"If we can regain power in communication towers, then we can find the people we need to rescue," said lead researcher Nina Mahmoudian from Michigan Technological University in US.

"And the human rescuers can communicate with each other," she added.

The team has programmed robots to restore power in small electrical networks, linking up power cords and batteries to light a little lamp or set a flag to waving with a small electrical motor.

The robots operate independently, choosing the shortest path and avoiding obstacles, just as you would want them to if they were hooking up an emergency power source to a cell tower.

"Our robots can carry batteries, or possibly a photovoltaic system or a generator," Mahmoudian said.

In addition to disaster recovery, their autonomous power distribution system could have military uses, particularly for special forces on covert missions.

"We could set up power systems before the soldiers arrive on site, so they wouldn't have to carry all this heavy stuff," Mahmoudian added.

The researchers presented their study at the 19th World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control, held in August in Cape Town, South Africa.

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