The “autonomous robotic construction crew” made its debut at a science fair in Chicago this week.
Computer scientists and engineers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have based their creation – called Termes – on the way termites build their colonies.
The robots can build towers out of foam bricks – autonomously constructing themselves staircases to reach the higher levels and adding bricks wherever they are needed.
But judging by the bots bricklaying technique it may be some time before brickies are laying down their trowels at a site near you.
Justin Werfel, a staff scientist in bioinspired robotics, said: “Most human construction projects today are performed by trained workers in a hierarchical organisation.
“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.
“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.”
The construction robots act independently but collectively as a colony.
They can perform all the necessary tasks—carrying blocks, climbing the structure, attaching the blocks, and so on—with only four simple types of sensors and three actuators.