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Self-Organizing Robotic Construction Crew

We’ve all been in classrooms, offices, rec leagues, and other scenarios where it seems like nothing can ever be accomplished unless a supervisor or a leader is literally telling everyone what to do. That’s not a problem for robots, at least not the tiny, termite-inspired ‘bots that Harvard researchers have developed. The robots can construct complex structures without any supervision using a form of “group intelligence.”

According to a Harvard press item, the TERMES system was developed by engineers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. The technology is based on the concept of stigmergy, a process in which parts of a system communicate with each other by changing and sensing the environment, just like termites and bees operate when building a mound or a hive.

“The key inspiration we took from 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 study author Radhika Nagpal of Harvard SEAS. The Self-Organizing Systems Research Group contributed distributed algorithms to the system.

The robots in the Harvard project have been able to construct pyramids and towers from foam bricks by following basic rules and reacting to the behavior of the other robots. The technology could potentially be used to build structures in dangerous environments, or even on other planets.

You can read more about the project in Science, and see a video of the TERMES in action below.

Source: Nature World News

About Brian Albright

Brian Albright is a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.
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