MIT’s Insect-Like Robots Can Build Solid Structures

MIT Media Lab
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MIT's Mediated Matter Group has taken inspiration from insects and developed small construction robots called Fiberbots which work together to create large structures using fiberglass.

For anyone with insectophobia, look away. MIT’s Mediated Matter Group has developed insect-inspired robots which spin fiberglass. The robots are called Fiberbots and work together to build large structures.

The team explains that some of the world’s most successful organisms collaborate in swarm fashion. MIT’s Fiberbots are no different and were inspired specifically by insects such as bees, termites, and ants. So far, the bots have created structures that look ethereal, rising 15 feet into the air.

However, the researchers have even bigger plans for the Fiberbots: Not only will they be used to create beautiful structures but they could also potentially be used in disaster zones.

On the MIT website, the research team explains: “A swarm approach to manufacturing can radically transform digital construction by digitally fabricating structural materials; generating products and objects larger than their gantry size; and supporting non-layered construction by offering novel fabrication processes such as robotic weaving and free-form printing.”

From Massachusetts to Far-Reaching Environments

In sum, the researchers created 16 robots and a design system which controls them. After the team created them in-house, they then deployed the mobile robots autonomously.

Together, the bots swarmed and wound fiberglass filament around themselves in parallel to create a 4.5m tall structure which is high-strength to the touch and tubular in appearance.

The researchers explain how the robots work, saying: “The robots are mobile, and use sensor feedback to control the length and curvature of each individual tube according to paths determined by a custom, environmentally informed, flocking-based design protocol. This provides designers the ability to control high-level design parameters that govern the shape of the resulting structure without needing to tediously provide commands for each robot by hand.”

Although the resulting structure remained outside in Massachusetts during the long winter months, it wasn’t damaged by wind or snow. In the eyes of tthe researchers, this feat demonstrates the potential uses for this technology.

As the structures can be large and built rapidly, the researchers believe that the bots will be able to produce designs which were once infeasible “in potentially far-reaching environments.”

MIT’s Insect-Like Robots Can Build Solid Structures