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Robotic Termites: The Greatest Architects on Earth?

Harvard engineers traveled to Africa to study termites' building technique
 Insects inspire future of robotic construction
 
 

Infamous for their ability to destroy property, termites typically create more harm than good within the construction sector. But according to a recent report by Reuters, Justin Werfel, a research scientist at Harvard WYSS Institute and colleague Kristen Petersen, believe the study of this ill-famed insect could inspire a future fleet of robotic construction workers.

Fascinated by the insects’ ability to construct objects nearly tens of thousands of times larger than themselves, Werfel and Petersen traveled to Southern Africa to study how millions of the tiny termites work together to build colossal mounds out of mud.

"Going to Africa and watching them, I guess you see them manipulate this material, and the engineer in me is just amazed at how they are actually able to pack it into these super solid really useful structures," Werfel said in an interview with Reuters.

In an attempt to develop the next generation of robotic construction workers, the duo are carefully monitoring the termites’ building technique. The first prototype of the termite robot has been constructed and researchers are working on developing a program to allow multiple robots to build structures together in a similar fashion to the way real termites do.

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According to Peterson, the robots could be extremely useful for projects challenging to humans such as maintenance on the International Space Station. Robot termites could also provide a “cheaper and more effective” option rather than sending a team of astronauts.  

"If you want to have a house built in three weeks you can certainly get it - hire a human construction crew. If you want something built on Mars, where it would be tricky for a human to work than, you know, these robots are perfect for you,” Peterson said.

Termite Robots: Construction Workers of the Future

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