Filed under: Brave New World, Connections, Mars, NPR, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, tech | Tags: blogging, Communion of Dreams, Hod Lipson, jim downey, Justin Werfel, Mars, microbots, NPR, predictions, robotics, science, Science Fiction, space, technology, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
From page 4 of Communion of Dreams:
They were, in essence, enclosing the entire planet in a greenhouse of glass fabric and golden plasteel. It was going to take generations to finish, even using mass microbots and fabricating the construction materials from the Martian sands. Tens of thousands of the specially programmed microbots, a few centimeters long and a couple wide, would swarm an area, a carpet of shifting, building insects. As each cell was finished, it was sealed, joined to the adjacent cells, and then the microbots would move on.
Those microbots play a big role in the novel, being a factor in the plot. More importantly, they are a basic part of the tech I envision for the book, accelerating our technological recovery on Earth as well as our venture into space.
Well, guess what was on the news last night:
“We’ve created this system of multiple independent robots that build things we ask for,” says [Justin] Werfel, “and they do it more like the way insects act than the way that robots normally act.”
The robots don’t look like termites. Instead, they look more like black, mechanical beetles, about 8 inches long. They have just a few on-board sensors that let them navigate around a work site set up in a lab.
* * *
“They build things that are much larger than themselves,” says Werfel. “They climb on what they are … building to get to higher places, and they coordinate what they are doing using a tool that termites use.
“Rather than talk to one another directly, they coordinate indirectly by changing their shared environment,” he explains. “So one puts down some material, another one comes along and reacts to that material, and uses that to help it decide later whether to put more material down.”
* * *
The vision is that, someday, swarms of robots could stack up sandbags to protect against flooding, or go to Mars and build living quarters for astronauts. That’s still a long way off. But this is a proof of principle study that construction robots can work together like termites, says Hod Lipson, an engineer at Cornell University who specializes in robotics.
I love it when stuff like this happens.
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