Robot construction crew mimics termites to build its own colony

When it comes right down to it, termites are some of the best construction workers out there. Generation after generation of the little buggers will die before completing their colony, yet without the sophisticated communication or training that we rely on, they work as a team to construct massive and elaborate homes for themselves. This sort of hive-minded construction process so impressed researchers at Harvard University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) that they decided to construct their own crew of robotic termite workers.

Like humans, most robot construction crews depend on a controller, or foreman, to organize things to get the job done. Harvard's TERMES (yes that's actually what they "termed" the project), on the other hand, follow a simple set of rules to build their structures. No organizational structure or communication is required: the blueprint of their project, as well as the basic rules of the road, are all pre-programmed into the robots, and they're set completely free to build their mini-skyscrapers in peace.

Individual robots, having no knowledge of what the others are doing to construct the project, simply observe the changes made to their structure since they tootled off to procure their next building block. Once they observe these changes, they plop their block down in the next space allowed by their programming and trundle off again. In insect circles, this sort of group consciousness is called stigmergy, and its sometimes thought of as a form of implicit communication.

Since there's no limit to the number of TERMES that can be assigned to a single project, there's theoretically no limit to what they can construct, either. The Harvard team is quick to mention that some sort of communication to individuals or systems outside themselves might be desirable in a real-world TERMES construction crew. As for now, the little termite-mimicking 'bots are absolutely fine with toiling away in their isolation, and you can watch them hard at work in the video below.

Via Harvard University

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