Termites inspire robot builders
Some American scientists have developed small robots that behave much like termites.
These insects build impressive meter-tall structures even though they can only follow simple rules and have no knowledge of a general plan.
The Harvard researchers' bricklaying robots do something similar, sensing only the immediate area and exchanging limited signals with each other.
However, as a report published in the journal Science shows, machines can also build large, consistent structures.
The researchers say that this decentralized approach to programming the robots can have some important advantages over other very sophisticated systems.
The team cites as an example swarms of construction robots that are sent to dangerous environments, such as catastrophic zones or space.
In these types of environments, if one or more machines are destroyed, the others can continue to work together to complete the task.
Unlike a complex robot that follows high-level commands. If the robot fails for any reason, the entire mission could be doomed.
"We are not going to Mars in the short term, but one more possible medium-term application could be to use similar robots in flooded areas to build sandbag levees," said lead study author Dr. Justin. Werfel of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
"It's kind of a robotics classic - we want to use them in situations that are dirty, dangerous and boring."
Dr. Werfel summarized his research at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).