Termite-like robots act autonomously
A group of researchers at Harvard observed how insects, specifically termites, can build large termite mounds and go on complex foraging expeditions without needing leadership.
Their ability to recognise the layout of their surroundings and make decisions based on that has led scientists to create a robot which behaves in the same way.
The iPad-sized robots, known as TERMES, can build any size or shape of structure using foam-like bricks. Researchers hope that one day they will be able to do things like lay down sand bags before floods, carry out construction in dangerous places, or remotely build structures on other planets.
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Each robot works independently. It knows what the finished product should look like, but it doesn’t know what its fellow robots are planning to do. Instead, it looks at the current state of the object it is working on and algorithms work out where it should add the next brick. The robots are constantly reevaluating what needs to happen next, so if a brick falls or one robot places a brick in the area another robot had been working on, that robot can readjust. The system works with one or 50 robots–it doesn’t matter.
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TERMES operate with only four sensors, which keeps the cost of production down. They can only climb the height of one brick, but they can stack bricks as stairs to build very tall buildings.