In a world where seems that everyone can do pretty much everything around the Internet, gadgets and social media, a team of researchers from Harvard University builds mini-swarm robots based on the termites working model. This project is far away from how we build buildings in our days, but it can be used to model new technologies on what nature already creates in many thousands of years.
These simple robots work together in the same way as termites, and are able to build constructions much larger than themselves. The mechanical insects can work in daunting and dangerous conditions for humans to build and rebuild the next generation of construction projects.
The termites demonstrate that can be productive in the absence of a leader, and this is one of the main process that researchers tried to imitate. Even a human has a more complex thinking process than a termite, the same working principle applied to humans can be counterproductive.
A construction system like Termes can be easily used in the human race to conquer other planets or in the deep ocean to prepare buildings and facilities. Building on Mars is too dangerous and expensive for human workers as well as building large underwater research structures.
The autonomous robots are engineered to build complex structures such as towers and pyramids by adding bricks to the structure. The entire construction process doesn’t require central command or dedicated roles.
The termites works independently based on a simple set of rules and without a leader or a blueprint with instructions. This different way of building is due to the fact that the each termite reacts directly to what it encounters instead having any idea of what to do. In this way, this little insect with less than 1 centimeter in size can build skyscraper-like mounds of up to 500 times their size.
This little robots are remarkably simple with a footprint of 4 x 7 inches and only 4.7 inches high. Much larger is the brick that they manipulate: 8.5 x 8.5 x 2 inches. Even are small, each robot has inside four types of sensors including here seven infrared sensors that provide information for navigation and detect the black and white patterns on the bricks, five ultrasonic sensors to detect the distance in the established perimeter, an accelerometer sensor to provide information about the tilt, and one tactile sensor.
The whegs (the wheel-legs of the robots) provide ability to move forward, backward, turn in a circle, or climb up a single step at a time.
A special gripper picks up the object and put it down on the structure based on the simple rules that the robot works.
How robots works
The robots operate on a simple principle, which suppose that each robot observe the changes and readjust the bricks in a given perimeter, instead observing each other. In biology, the phenomenon is called stigmergy.
This working algorithm has a major advantage compared with other operational modes where the robots are dependent on each other. This construction system can go forward even if a robot gets out of working scheme.
Because the operation is not based on a blueprint for the buildings, the robot design and then worked backward to create information that the robot will use in the next moves.
Until a large-scale project here on Earth, the engineers may have to face several challenges and improve several features of the robots including here the speed, and the ability to move different types of bricks of different surfaces.