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Termite-Inspired Robots Build With Bricks

By Science

February 14, 2014

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Harvard University researchers have developed software that determines how autonomous robots can make specific structures by following the same set of rules.

The researchers first tasked three compact bots with autonomously making a one-story, three-pronged structure, a job they completed in 30 minutes. The researchers say their approach enables project managers to utilize many simple robots, any of which is expendable, instead of relying on a few sophisticated ones, where the loss of one might jeopardize a project. They developed software that works backward from the planned structure, breaking its construction into a series of rules the robots can follow on their own.

The robots "don't have explicit instructions to do specific things, each is just reacting to what it encounters," says Harvard's Justin Werfel. He says one challenge was getting the robots up to speed because they tend to make small errors that add up and must be corrected.

The work "shows that with a simple behavior, which was programmed into the robots, you can get a type of construction done," says University of Lausanne researcher Laurent Keller. "It would be interesting to see something [built] that is more complex."

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researcher Dario Floreano notes the concept is "applicable to environments where humans cannot go."

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