Robots that think like termites


Insects like termites build amazing complex structures with no central authority.  Each termite is replaceable independent and relentless.  As man builds robots these simple tiny termites are giving us examples on how to make much better robots to do complex, dangerous and monotonous things.

Given the size of a termite they build mounds taller than what the largest skyscrapers man has ever built.  But how?   No brilliant engineers, detailed blueprints, specialized craftsmen,  expensive machines and highly organized workmen.

termes robotsA research team has built small robots modeled after termites.  They call their robots Termes.   Each Termes Robots has a small simple brain and reacts to its environment and works independently.  If one of the Termes breaks it is simply push out of the way and works continues.  They can climb, move, carry and push. Simply, robot construction crew inspired by termites.

“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 principal investigator Radhika Nagpal, Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard SEAS.

Justin Werfel of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, said: “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.”

Current models are the size of a small watermelon, and can construct bridges, towers, and more from foam blocks. When they require infrastructure, such as stairs or ramps to complete their work, they build them with no prior instructions to do so. They construct these tools in such a way they do not impede construction taking place on the main project.