MIT researchers create robot that “grows” and can build buildings

A group of researchers from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), in the United States, is developing a new system of self-replicating robots that can build structures larger than themselves. In practice, they can “grow” in size to build anything from vehicles to buildings – or even giant robots.

The project involved creating a system consisting of a series of small robots that can attach to each other to move independently and perform large-scale assemblies quickly.

The study, published in Naturepoints out that this type of system challenges the idea that, to build large structures, even larger machines are needed.

The robots were developed in a modular format, where each robot can use its magnetic attachment points to attach itself to another robot. The system is wireless, relying on a type of electronic structure that shares energy and data between all parts – called “voxels”.

As the robots fit together, they can move like a caterpillar. In addition, the set has an AI (artificial intelligence) system so that it decides on its own what is the best time to build a larger version of itself, how to reach a certain point in the shortest possible time or avoid collision with other objects along the way.

The researchers point out that the application of these robots is still far from becoming a reality. They still need to refine the algorithm, as well as strengthen connections between modules. However, they say the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is interested in the project with the aim of building structures for coastal protection against erosion and sea level rise.

“While there has been a growing interest in 3D printed houses, today they require printing machines as big or larger than the house being built. Once again, the potential for such structures to be assembled by swarms of small robots could bring benefits.”

In the video below, the researchers explain how the development of self-replicating robots was:

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