Abstract: Biological systems achieve tremendous mileage by using vast numbers of cheap and unreliable components to achieve complex goals reliably. We are rapidly building embedded systems with similar characteristics, from self-assembling modular robots to vast sensor networks. How do we engineer robust collective behavior? I will describe two projects from my group where we have used inspiration from nature, both cells and social insects, to design decentralized algorithms for wireless sensor networks and collective robotics. In the first project, we use insights from social insects to design algorithms for collective construction by simple mobile robots. In the second project, we use insights from cardiac cell synchronization to design self-repairing algorithms for “desynchronization” and TDMA channel sharing in wireless sensor networks.