Robots could build future cities by mimicking nature, says study

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Updated: Mar 15, 2019 9:20 PM

Cities of the future could be built and repaired by robots and drones mimicking the tactics of nature, according to a study.

Using robots should reduce human risk, allow tasks to be completed faster and monitoring alongside construction.

Cities of the future could be built and repaired by robots and drones mimicking the tactics of nature, according to a study. Using robots should reduce human risk, allow tasks to be completed faster and monitoring alongside construction. The robots could collect data on everything they are doing, helping to improve their practices, according to the study published in the journal Science Robotics. “The cities of the future could be built and maintained by groups of land-based and flying robots working together to construct, assess, and repair the urban ecosystem of buildings and infrastructure,” said Mirko Kovac from Imperial College London in the UK.

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“Nature provides ample proof that such collective construction is possible, and by applying some of these ideas to how drones are constructed, operated and made to cooperate, we could make this dream a reality,” Kovac said in a statement. The team looked at examples from nature where groups of organisms use different tactics to work together in construction. Many animals in groups take cues from and leverage their environment when constructing or repairing their homes. For example, termites, which live in large ‘super-organism’ colonies, rely on pheromones excreted during deposition of materials to coordinate construction.

Analysing these methods of coordination can help researchers design algorithms for how groups of robots and drones could autonomously work together during construction. However, the researchers are also developing drones that are based on nature, through their design and the materials they are made from. The team is also creating individual ‘soft aerial robots’ — drones made of smart materials and structures that can interact dynamically with their environment. These include a drone that can dive and leap like a gannet and a spider-inspired drone that can create webs of tensile material and even suspend itself from them, researchers said. Before they work together on construction, drones are being put to work repairing existing buildings and infrastructure, such as patching up pipeline leaks. This crucial step will allow researchers to create drones that respond to the needs of a building while working alongside its human inhabitants.

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