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Brief Published: 17 Feb 2014

Termes: Construction Robots

Termes robots

Engineers at Harvard University in the US have developed construction robots inspired by the way termites build their mounds. Like termites, the robots are autonomous, but are able to work as teams to build structures.

The robot system, called Termes, involves a form of self-organisation known as a stigmergy, where each bot responds to markers left in the environment from other bots. There is no lead robot or central organisation unit overseeing the process.

"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.

The researchers say their creation could be used in the future for construction projects that are too dangerous for humans to complete – such as in disaster zones or extra-terrestrial environments. Their findings are published in the February 2014 edition of scientific journal Science.  

Insects are inspiring a new wave of scientific innovation. Biological construction techniques and new biomaterials are opening up fresh opportunities in building design. Meanwhile, more efficient manufacturing methods are bringing the concept of insect-sized search and rescue robots closer to reality. For more insect-inspired innovation, see Insects in Design.