Harvard’s Justin Werfel presents “Collective Construction by Termites and Other Robots” as part of the IRIM Robotics Seminar Series. The event will be held in the Marcus Nanotechnology Building from 12-1 p.m. and is open to the public.
Termites build huge, complex structures through the collective actions of millions of independent agents. These natural systems inspire the research area of collective construction, whose goal is to develop autonomous multi-robot systems that build large-scale structures according to user specifications. I will discuss the design and realization of such a system in which climbing robots flexibly build structures using specialized building blocks. Robots act independently under decentralized control, using local information, onboard sensing, and implicit coordination through manipulation of a shared environment. A user can specify a target structure using a high-level representation, and robots follow simple rules that guarantee the correct completion of that structure. I will also briefly discuss ongoing experimental studies of African termites, aimed at better understanding their individual behaviors and how these give rise to the structures they produce.
Justin Werfel is a research scientist at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. His research includes work on swarm robotics, evolutionary theory, DNA self-assembly, social insect behavior, and other topics in complex systems and self-organization.
Werfel received an A.B. in physics from Princeton and a S.M. (EECS) from MIT. He completed his Ph.D. in computer science at MIT in 2006, developing algorithms to allow swarms of simple robots to autonomously build user-specified structures. His postdoctoral research at Harvard included further exploration of collective construction, work on the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors at the New England Complex Systems Institute, and cancer modeling at Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston.