Evan Ackerman, IEEE Spectrum
—In the future, these swarm bots won’t destroy your front stairs, they’ll build them. IEEE Spectrum discusses the technology behind Harvard’s Termes Project.
Swarms of robots might not always seem like the friendliest things to have in your life, but next time you need a tiny stairway, this hard-working little robot named Kali and a bunch of its friends are here to serve.
Kali is part of Harvard’s Termes project, which is developing a swarm construction system where lots of little robots team up to build structures that would be impossible for any one single little robot to put together. It’s called “Termes” after our noble and endlessly destructive pals the termites, who use teamwork to fabricate mounds of earth up to 30 feet high. Like termites, Termes robots are simple and autonomous, and are able to cooperatively move heaps of standard building blocks (specially designed to allow the robots to both lift and crawl around on them) to create just about anything, as long as you give them enough blocks and enough time.
For example, the demo below shows Kali using just a few simple sensors to autonomously construct a staircase to scale a wall of an unknown height, based on previous experience with such situations:
Nicely done. While this is just one robot, you can easily extrapolate to what might be possible with swarms of robots, and it’s not just bigger staircases. Get enough of these little guys together and they’ll build you your very own fort, as the simulation at the end of this next video shows:
The Termes Project comes from Harvard’s Self-organizing Systems Research Group, the same dudes responsible for the
kill-o-bots kilobots we met last week. They’ll be presenting this work at the 2011 Robotics: Science and Systems conference next week in LA, and you can read the full paper at their website.