Fall 2011 GRASP Seminar - Justin Werfel, Harvard University, "Collective Construction by Termites and Other Robots"

Abstract: The research goal of collective construction is to develop autonomous multi-robot systems that build large-scale structures according to user specifications.  I will discuss issues in the design of such systems, and present TERMES, a system of climbing robots and passive building blocks inspired by the construction activities of termites.  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 close with a discussion of experimental studies of African termites, aimed at better understanding their behaviors and how these affect the structures they produce.

Presenter's biography

Justin Werfel is a research scientist at Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.  His research interests are in the understanding and design of complex systems, and include topics in swarm robotics, DNA self-assembly, and evolutionary theory.  He received his Ph.D. in computer science from MIT in 2006, followed by postdoctoral work at Harvard and the New England Complex Systems Institute.