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Old Posted Oct 31, 2017, 6:01 PM
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Buildings of the future might be constructed by swarms of robots

Buildings of the future might be constructed by swarms of robots

October 27, 2017

By Zach and Kelly Weinersmith

Read More: https://www.popsci.com/buildings-fut...-swarms-robots

Thanks to recent advances in robotics, computing, and other technologies, a small but growing number of scientists and engineers think robot-made housing might finally be possible. In fact, not only is it possible, it may be far better. Robotic construction may increase the speed of construction, improve its quality, and lower its price.

- There are a number of ways this could work, including giant gantries that behave something like 3D printers, and robotic arms on wheels that might directly replace construction workers. Personally, we’d like a giant robot to build our house, largely because the phrase “a giant robot built my house” contains the phrase “giant robot.” — But the giant approach may not be the ideal way to go. Even a (merely) truck-sized robot might be a bit cumbersome around a construction site. Plus, when you have a single large robot that does everything, if that robot breaks down, you lose your ability to do anything.

- What if instead of a small number of large robots, we have a large number of small robots? Robot swarms, like insect swarms (and humans for that matter), can build structures far larger than themselves. With a giant gantry system, the house can be no taller than the height of the gantry. Swarm robots can just keep crawling or flying up, building structures far larger than the individual small robots in the swarm. — Some of these construction-oriented swarm robots take their cue from biology. In the research of Dr. Justin Werfel of Harvard, and Dr. Kirstin Petersen, formerly at Harvard, now at Cornell, the bots were inspired by termites.

- According to Dr. Petersen, “They build some of the tallest structures in the animal kingdom compared to the size of the individuals. Think many orders of magnitude, thousands of times bigger than the individual. If we could do that, hundreds of people could build the Eiffel Tower but without a single coordinated sketch. That would be amazing.” — Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia are also creating a swarm of structure-building robots. They created “Minibuilders.” Minibuilders are basically little 3D printers, about the size of a laundry hamper, that deposit a concrete-like material in layers. Imagine robot turtles with attached nozzles for concrete.

- But let’s face it—having a swarm of independent 3D printing robots building you an inexpensive work of art to live in is going to get boring after a while. How about flying quadcopter bots? — Because you have a horde of flying bots, you can have them place each brick precisely, making complex structures or interesting patterns. But in order to do this, you have to have a motion-capture camera system observing them while they build and telling the drones what to do. This is fine in a lab, but may be somewhat difficult to move outside. One virtue of the swarm paradigm is that the individual bots are relatively expendable. So if a job is particularly dangerous.

- A large number of small bots might be preferable to either humans or large construction machines. Perhaps in the future some combination of flying and ground-based robots will appear in your yard like reverse locusts, leaving you a nice gazebo before they pass on. Or, a bit more usefully, we can foresee a day when sanitation, electricity, water, and shelter are restored far faster, far cheaper, and far more safely to disaster areas. And, perhaps it’ll all be thanks to a couple geeks who spent way too much time gazing at termites.

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