A swarm of termite robots could be the key to building future colonies on Mars
Termite colonies were the inspiration behind the mini robots
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Thursday 13 February 2014
A swarm of miniature robots acting independently of one another but cooperating as a group to build the same structure has been developed by scientists who were inspired by the team effort of termite colonies that build 8-foot mud towers above their nests. They believe that robotic swarms could one day be used to help build a space base on Mars.
The robot brick layers work by the same autonomous principles of social insects where individuals act on their own but to a set of simple rules laid down for the overall benefit of the colony, scientists said.
Like social insects, the robots are programmed to observe the behaviour of their colleagues and act according to a set of simple “traffic” rules. It led to the robots laying foam bricks one on top of another to build towers, castles and pyramids, bringing extra wherever they were needed.
"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 Professor Radhika Nagpal of Harvard University.
Harvard graduate student Kirstin Petersen and staff scientist Justin Werfel with a termite mound in Namibia. (Self-Organizing Systems Research Group, Harvard SEAS)
The robots, called Termes, are as big as a child’s lunchbox and move forward and backwards, and can turn and climb. They carry one brick at a time and drop it directly in front whenever they detect a spare place in the structure.
Each robot obeys a predetermined set of “traffic rules” and keeps track on its own location with respect to an original “seed brick” that was used to start the structure. The process is fundamentally different from the way human construction sites are organised on a hierarchy of commands, sad Justin Werfel of Harvard.
"Normally, at the beginning, you have a blueprint and a detailed plan of how to execute it, and the foreman goes out and directs his crew, supervising them as they do it. In insect colonies, it's not as if the queen is giving them all individual instructions. Each termite doesn't know what the others are doing or what the current overall state of the mound is,” Dr Werfel said.
The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president
Life & Style blogs
Who is Teresa Fidalgo? Debunking the fake ghost story that's got Instagram spooked
Snapchat removed the Best Friends list feature and 'stalkers' are upset
Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
Eight-year-old girl Camilla Lisant suggests possible cure for cancer to her scientist father
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A skilled .NET developer with e...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company are cur...
£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Analyst...
£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An excellent opportunity ...