PaintSquare.com
Follow us on Twitter Follow us on LinkedIn Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram Visit the TPC Store
Search the site

 

Coatings Industry News

Main News Page


Termites Teach Tomorrow’s Builders

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Comment | More

Need a crew that will work independently, intuitively, quickly and steadily—even when the foreman’s not watching?

Turn to the termite, the unlikely inspiration for an autonomous robotic construction crew developed by Harvard University scientists and engineers.

The robotic system, called TERMES, demonstrates that simple, collective systems of robots can (like termites) build complex, 3D structures without the need for any central command or prescribed roles, according to the team from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

The team recently published results of its four-year project in Science.

Foreman Free

The TERMES robots can construct towers, castles, and pyramids out of foam bricks, autonomously building themselves staircases to reach the higher levels and adding bricks wherever they are needed, according to an announcement on the research.

Harvard University

The video, which supplements the Science article, shows the robot crew in action.

With only four simple types of sensors and three actuators, the robots can:

  • Follow a set of predetermined traffic rules;
  • Orient themselves with respect to a “seed brick;”
  • Detect other bricks and robots in the immediate vicinity; and
  • Move forward, backward and turn in place.

In addition, operating without a central command eliminates a potentially vulnerable single failure point for the system, researchers say.

In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood or perform simple construction tasks on Earth or even Mars, the team said.

Taking Cues from Termites

Many species of termites work cooperatively to build complex mounds and structures without supervision, whereas humans typically work in a hierarchical fashion to complete projects.

“The key inspiration we took from termites is the idea that you can do something really complicated as a group, without a supervisor,” principal investigator Radhika Nagpal, Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard SEAS, said in a statement.

Radhika Nagpal
Harvard University

Termites teach "that you can do something really complicated as a group, without a supervisor”—a novel concept in construction, says Dr. Radhika Nagpal.

Also, the idea “that you can do it without everybody discussing explicitly what’s going on, but just by modifying the environment” was another inspiring factor, she said.

Nagpal is also a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute, where she co-leads the bioinspired robotics platform.

No Queen Required

Justin Werfel describes the difference in human versus termite construction crews this way.

“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,” said Werfel, a staff scientist in bioinspired robotics at the Wyss Institute and a former SEAS postdoctoral fellow.

"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.”

Instead, the insects rely on a concept known as stigmergy, a kind of implicit communication: They observe other termites’ changes to the environment and act accordingly, he said.

robots
Eliza Grinnell / SEAS Communications

Like termites, each robot executes its building process in parallel with others, but without knowing who else is working at the same time.

The term stigmergy (stimulating configuration + energy), coined in the 1950s, refers to the mechanisms that mediate animal-animal interactions. In an insect society, for example, individuals work as if they were alone while their collective activities appear to be coordinated, as one expert explains. Stigmergy suggests that the previous work directs the work and triggers new building actions.

That is what the team designed the TERMES robots to do.

Each robot executes its building process in parallel with others, but without knowing who else is working at the same time.

If one robot has a breakdown, or has to leave, it does not affect the others, the team said. This also means that the same instructions can be executed by five robots or 500.

The TERMES system is an important proof of concept for scalable, distributed artificial intelligence, according to the team.

Similar Research

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are also exploring robot technology for the construction jobsite.

The MIT scientists developed modular robots capable of climbing over and around each other, spinning, jumping and snapping together.

The simple M-Blocks, as they’re called, may one day be able to self-assemble structures, raise scaffolding for building projects, or temporarily repair buildings and bridges during emergencies.

   

Tagged categories: Biomimicry; Building materials; Construction; Engineers; Jobs; Research

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

Advertisements
 
International Bridge Conference
 
2017 International Bridge Conference
 
June 4-8, 2017, National Harbor, Maryland
 

 
SABRE Autonomous Solutions
 
Quality
 
The ALPHA1 provides a consistent finish day-in
day-out; job to job.
 

 
SAFE Systems, Inc.
 
SAFE Systems'
Blast Lights &
Deadman Switches
 
Halogen or LED blast lights available with our NEW urethane bumper. Switches available in many colors for color coding your hoses.
 

 
PPG Protective and Marine Coatings Group
 
We Protect and Beautify the World
 
PPG is widely recognized as a world leader in protective and marine coatings, developing innovative, cutting-edge products and services.
 

 
Axxiom Manufacturing
 
Revolutionary Units
 
By integrating Schmidt's Aftercoolers with our blast pots, these systems remove moisture from air and minimize equipment footprint on jobsite.
Call 1-800-231-2085
 

 
KTA-Tator, Inc. - Corporate Office
 
KTA-Tator
Coatings Inspection
 
Any structure, any height, any place - A qualified coatings inspector is always available. Call 1-800-245-6379.
 

 
Carboline Company
 
Carboline is pouring with opportunities
 
We are proud of our exceptional products and services, and believe that people are our greatest asset. Come grow with us!
 

 
Blastox/The TDJ Group, Inc.
 
Blastox® - One Step Lead Abatement
 
Sandblast additive delivered to jobsite pre-blended to eliminate hazardous abrasive wastes. Why mix, meter or apply at the job-site? Blast with ease and
Let your painters paint!
1(800)-252-7869
 

 
Fischer Technology Inc.
 
DUALSCOPE®FMP100 with DataCenter IP
 
Transfer customized inspection plans from PC to FMP100 using step-by-step guidance with prompts and pictures throughout the measurement procedure
 

 
 
 

Technology Publishing Co., 2100 Wharton Street, Suite 310, Pittsburgh PA 15203-1951

TEL 1-412-431-8300  • FAX  1-412-431-5428  •  EMAIL webmaster@paintsquare.com


The Technology Publishing Network

Durability + Design PaintSquare the Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings Paint BidTracker

 
EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About PaintSquare.com   |   Privacy policy   |   Terms & conditions   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us