Termites Inspire Growth Instead Of Destruction For A Change
Most people know termites as tiny destructive creatures, but termites are also capable of creating large tunneled structures that can reach heights of several feet. This ability has served as a model for engineers looking to create robots that could work together in order to build structures. Recently a group of engineers studied the social behavior of termites in order to build a fleet of robots that they hope will one day build structures on Mars.
Termites have been fascinating to entomologists for quite some time, but now engineers are looking to termites for some guidance. Engineers are interested in building robotic versions of termites. Much like termites, these robotic termites will also work harmoniously with other robotic termites within a group. Termites work independently, but all termites work towards one common goal, and this is what engineers are hoping to recreate in robotic form.
Termites work alongside other termites in accordance with rules that are laid out within the colony. Much like all types of social insects, the engineers programmed the robotic termites to recognize the tasks performed by other robotic termites. This recognition then serves as a cue that will tell other individual robotic termites how to contribute to the collective building effort. So far, the engineers have watched their robotic termites build pyramids. Each robotic termite knows which sort of block to bring to the pyramid based on which blocks previous robotic termites had laid down on the pyramid.
According to one of the leading researchers involved with the project, Professor Radhika Nagpal of Harvard University, the robots behave exactly like termites in that they do not need to follow specific directions given by a supervisor overlooking the construction project. Rather, the robotic termites simply build structures by dividing labor among individuals and following their pre-programmed tasks. The first group of humans that will colonize Mars will be living within shelters created by these robotic termites.
Which other types of insects would serve as useful models for robotic engineers looking to create machines that are capable of building structures?