Robot army 'to help alleviate future floods'
Self-organising robots that mimic insect colonies have been shown off by computer scientists at Harvard University. The robot construction crews could in future be used to help alleviate flooding, building up walls of sandbags or as the construction crew of choice for future building on Mars.
Unlike human construction crews, there is no foreman or central control unit. Neither is there any need for the robots to communicate with each other. Dubbed Termes after the termites that build mounds of soil to act as lungs for their underground nests, the robots can build towers and pyramids out of blocks, even constructing their own staircases to reach higher levels.
The team behind the robots, from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, have taken their inspiration from termite colonies, which demonstrate swarm-like intelligence.
"They key inspiration we took from the termites is the idea that you can do something really complicated as a group without a supervisor, and secondly that you can do it without everybody discussing explicitly what's going on, but just by modifying the environment," said principal investigator Radhika Nagpal, professor of computer science at Harvard SEAS.