Robots to the rescue

Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 19:20 in Astronomy & Space

On the plains of Namibia, millions of tiny termites are building a mound of soil, an 8-foot-tall “lung” for their underground nest. During a year of construction, many termites will live and die, wind and rain will batter the structure, yet the colony’s life-sustaining project will continue. Inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, a team of computer scientists and engineers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication. It uses simple robots — any number of robots — that cooperate by modifying their environment. Harvard’s TERMES system demonstrates that collective systems of robots can build complex, 3-D structures without requiring a central command structure or prescribed roles. The results of the four-year project were presented this week...

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