A fleet of construction robots could build large structures

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These little robot workers are still in the training stage. However, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who have designed a fleet of construction robots, believe they have the potential to assemble large structures in the future.

Scientists hope that their robots will be able to build things much larger than themselves, such as vehicles or even larger robots. Their latest research shows, for example, that they could be able to build themselves deformable elements, such as an airplane wing or even a functional racing car.

The principle of this construction method is to work by assembling several small identical parts. The various constructed elements, like the robots themselves, can therefore be assembled in this way. In short, it’s a bit like Lego robots could play with Lego themselves. These would also be able to work in teams and move independently to quickly build large structures. These results were published in the journal Nature communication technique.

However, be careful: if these little workers actually have this potential according to studies, they are far from already realizing it. “ A fully autonomous, self-replicating robot assembly system that can both assemble larger structures, including larger robots, and plan the best build sequence… This will still take years “, specifies Neil Gershenfeld, one of the authors of the study, in a press release from MIT.

However, the apprentice robots are making significant progress, according to the researchers. For example, they are now able to know when it is necessary to build more robots to progress in a task. The researchers also worked on how to organize them into swarms of different sizes to build structures efficiently and without them colliding.

Voxels as building units

The key to the functioning of these robots is the “voxel”. These are all identical building units. These are the famous “Legos” that the robots are made of and that they also use for their construction. However, these voxels do more than give shape to a construction. They also send direct data and energy to perform the necessary functions.


When we build these structures, we must integrate the intelligence “, explains Neil Gershenfeld. ” Earlier versions of assembly robots were connected by wiring harnesses to their power source and control systems. What emerged was the idea of ​​structural electronics: making voxels that transmit power and data as well as power “. In this new system “there are no sons. There is only the structure”.

The robots themselves consist of a chain of several voxels that are connected end to end. They are able to grab another voxel using attachment points at their ends. Then they “crawl”, somewhat like a caterpillar, to the desired position and attach the new voxel to the structure.

In this process, there comes a time when the journey to the fixation point can be very long. The robot can then make the decision to instead build another robot of the same size or larger if it feels that the construction will be done more efficiently this way. Many studies have been conducted on the use of robot builders, the researchers point out. ” But the next step, where the robot has to make the decision to build another robot or another kind of robot, that’s new According to MIT, this method could open up new perspectives in construction.

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Source: Nature Communications Engineering

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