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"The point sticks in your head: physics rules. Virtue does not triumph unless the physics allows it."
- Larry Niven

Robot Earthworm  
  Autonomous swarming robots the size of earthworms, with similar earth-digging capabilities.  

It feels safe in the underground bunker, covered by many yards of dirt and gravel. Until the tiny robot earthworms come.

It resembled no machine that Pere had ever seen, rather it looked like a mass of tiny gleaming roots: the red earth still packed between them heightened the illusion.

"How does it work?"

The robot reached out - leaning very close to focus its microscopic eyepieces - and carefully pulled one of the strands free. It lay on the robot's outstretched metallic palm, eight inches long, an eighth of an inch in diameter. Seen close it was not completely flexible, but made instead of pivoted and smoothly finished segments. The robot pointed out the parts of interest.

"...At the front end is a hard-edged orifice that drills a hole in the ground. Debris is carried back through the body of the machine and eliminated here: in operation it is not unlike the common earthworm. Directional apparatus here guides it, oriented by a gravimeter to locate our base. Here a power unit and here a frequency generator...

"They have no metallic components ... they move very slowly... we estimate they entered the ground four years ago."

From War With The Robots, by Harry Harrison.
Published by Pyramid Books in 1962
Additional resources -

Elsewhere they are referred to as "plastic spaghetti."

In their operation, these robot earthworms remind me of these real-life Self-Replicating Modular Robots (really an organized swarm of segments - "pivoted and smoothly finished segments"):


(Self-Replicating Modular Robots)

See also the mining worm from Larry Niven's 1968 book A Gift From Earth.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from War With The Robots
  More Ideas and Technology by Harry Harrison
  Tech news articles related to War With The Robots
  Tech news articles related to works by Harry Harrison

Robot Earthworm-related news articles:
  - i-Snake Flexible Robot Surgeon Concept
  - Meshworm Inches Toward You (Thanks, Harry Harrison)
  - Israel Working On Tunnel Detection Snake Robots
  - I Can't Resist Worm Robots

Articles related to Robotics
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It's Time For Robots With Soft, Sensitive Skin
Microscopic Robots On The March!
MOFLIN AI Robot - Yes You Can Have A Tribble

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