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SERVO 05.2014 9
Inspired by Termites
One of the latest biomimetic
bots is the TERMES system,
developed at Harvard's School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences
( www.seas.harvard.edu). The
concept — inspired by Namibian
termite swarms — is a self-organizing bot team that "needs
no supervisor, no eye in the sky,
and no communication. Just
simple robots — any number of
robots — that cooperate by
modifying their environment. The
TERMES robots can build towers,
castles, and pyramids out of foam
bricks, autonomously building
themselves staircases to reach the
higher levels and adding bricks
wherever they are needed. In the
future, similar robots could lay
sandbags in advance of a flood or perform simple construction
tasks on Mars."
The key to their operation is mimicking the termite's communication
technique — known as stigmergy — in which extremely simple participants
can learn to imitate and build on other's actions even if they lack memory,
intelligence, or awareness. Which begs the question of why the researchers
felt the need to travel all the way to Namibia to observe the phenomenon.
After all, they could have just watched a One Direction concert video.
An Egg for Couch Potatoes
Ever since Robert Adler invented the Zenith Space Command in 1956, it
has no longer been necessary to actually move our lazy butts off the couch to
change channels. Even though remotes have become more complex and
multifunctional, we still have to at least walk into a room where a TV set
actually resides. All that is about to change with the introduction of KEEKER
( www.keecker.com) — an Android-powered device that combines a computer,
projector (1280 x 800 resolution), and 360° sound system with a robot to
make it all mobile.
If you're lying in bed and have a sudden craving for an episode of Gilligan's
Island, KEEKER can bring it to you. You won't even have to move your head, as
it can project the show on the ceiling directly above. (You'll have to open your
own eyes, though.) The 16 in x 25 in ( 41 cm x 64 cm) egg-shaped machine is
also capable of streaming content from Youtube and Netflix, and you can even
project planetarium images on your kid’s ceiling so they'll shut up and go to
sleep. The device — from a company in Paris — is slated to be available later this
year for about $5,000. Personally, I'd wait until the $200 Chinese knock-off
Harvard's TERMES robot swarm imitates
Namibian termites which use collective
intelligence to build
eight foot soil mounds.
KEEKER's robotic entertainment system.
Photo courtesy of Wyss Institute.