Latest advancements in robotics unveiled at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - 02/17/14
Robots inspired by termites have been developed by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “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,” says principal investigator Radhika Nagpal, Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard SEAS. The robots only have four simple types of sensors and three actuators.
The TERMES robots are able to build complex 3-D structures such as towers, castles and pyramids out of foam bricks and construct staircases to allow them to reach higher levels. The robots are able to function without supervision and work collectively with each other. Most robots operate with the assistance of an ‘eye in the sky’ or a central controller to ensure efficiency. It is envisioned that these robots would be developed to perform tasks such as arranging sandbags in preparation of a flood or simple construction jobs on Mars.
This is another example of engineers seeking to replicate the complex systems seen in nature. “When many agents get together—whether they’re termites, bees, or robots—often some interesting, higher-level behavior emerges that you wouldn’t predict from looking at the components by themselves,” says lead author Justin Werfel. “Broadly speaking, we’re interested in connecting what happens at the low level, with individual agent rules, to these emergent outcomes.”
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