The engineers at the University of Harvard have developed an autonomous robot system that can be used to create three dimensional structures that are larger than the robots themselves. The typical problem with robotic construction is that there is no communication between the robots. The robots know their task, to put a certain block on point a-5, but they often cannot know what is at point a-5. Using a self-organization system called stigmergy, the robots can create a collective construction system. The engineers took cues from insects, such as termites, that leave cues in the environment that the other insects follow. When termites build their dirt mounds, they leave a track of pheromones which alert the termites to the progress of their fellow builders. The same system works with the Termes construction robot. The robots are able to communicate with one another and acknowledge whether the previous robot has already laid a brick at a-5.
The goal of this project is to allow the robots to build a structure by reacting and observing the progress of their fellow robots without any human interaction. The robots are able to manipulate the blocks they are placing while also being able to maneuver over and around the building blocks. The tasks that the robots are currently able to perform are very simple. Therefore, there is no capability for an autonomous robot construction system to take over the construction worker industry. However, there is still a opportunity to use this system. The system can be used to improve speed and efficiency of simple tasks as well as enabling construction in areas where it is too dangerous or difficult for humans to work, such as disaster environments or other planets. The opportunities are endless when the robots start communicating with one another and begin to develop an advanced intellectual system.