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.
Life & Style blogs
Anal sex study reveals climate of 'coercion'
Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS Association doesn't yet know what to do with all of the money raised
The best gowns on the red carpet of 2014 Venice Film Festival
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?
iPhone 6 'release date' firmed up in leaked photos of Apple smartphone
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- 1 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 2 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- 5 Terror threat level raised to severe as PM warns Isis risk could last for decades
- < Previous
- Next >
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...
£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...
£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...
£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...