But researchers generally agree that the work advances the general understanding of how networks behave, a problem that humans, who often think hierarchically, seem to have a hard time with.
“We have very poor intuition about dynamic networks,” says Egerstedt, a control theory expert whose projects include how to manipulate swarms of mosquito-sized robots for environmental monitoring or intelligence gathering. “We are still so bad at driving lots of robots into a formation. I was trying to think of one thing in life where we have that kind of control, and the only thing I could think of is sheepherding. We have sheepherder dogs—driver nodes which are pretty good at controlling the herd with the help of a few leader female sheep. But that’s about as far as our intuition goes.”