Complex systems are characterized by many independent components whose low-level actions produce collective high-level results. Predicting high-level results given low-level rules is a key open challenge; the inverse problem, finding low-level rules that give specific outcomes, is in general still less understood. We present a multi-agent construction system inspired by mound-building termites, solving such an inverse problem. A user specifies a desired structure, and the system automatically generates low-level rules for independent climbing robots that guarantee production of that structure. Robots use only local sensing and coordinate their activity via the shared environment. We demonstrate the approach via a physical realization with three autonomous climbing robots limited to onboard sensing. This work advances the aim of engineering complex systems that achieve specific human-designed goals.
Designing Collective Behavior in a Termite-Inspired Robot Construction Team
Justin Werfel, Kirstin Petersen, Radhika Nagpal
Science 14 February 2014:
Vol. 343 no. 6172 pp. 754-758
Video of robots at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFwk303p0zY