A team of Harvard University computer scientists have unveiled a set of termite-shaped robots named Termes that could one day play a major role in how structural engineering is done in the world.
The robots – whose ability was demonstrated on the first day of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – actually work in tandem, without any central supervision, to construct structures for which they have been pre-programmed.
Not only were they able to identify and pick up bricks, but they also seemed pretty aware of each other's positioning. Their functionality and movement is very limited at the moment, and they could only perform a set number of tasks, but then the idea is in the very early stages of its development.
The robots were developed at the end of a research that observed the behavior of termites, as the project's lead author Justin Werfel said: "Termites inspired this whole research topic for us. We learned the incredible things these tiny insects can build and said: ‘Fantastic, now how do we create and program robots that work in similar ways but build what humans want."
Termites, the actual insects, have this special ability to build air-conditioned mounds by communicating with each other and the environment they belong to. The said research's robot army mirrors the actual termites' work ethic.
So what does the future hold for these robot termites? Werfel said: "For a bigger job you can just add more robots, even mid-job, without needing to change how they are programmed."