- I'm pretty sure that this will be of interest to many on this list. I sure would enjoy getting your thoughts on it!:-)
On 4/29/08, Rupert Soar <R.C.Soar@...> wrote:
As a quick update then………..the TERMES project is approaching its end – but is by no means over. In its simplest form we applied the single largest study to termites and their mounds. We tackled the problem from two directions. The top-down approach satisfied our humanistic urge to 'see it all'. This was achieved through countless mound castings of internal regions and, of course, the 3D scanning process we applied. Top-down is superficial but gives context. To really understand a 'super-organism' you need to link this with a bottom-up study of behaviour and processes as components of homeostasis, which we performed also.
Linking this to the chain - The mound building Termites are 'aliens on our own planet'. Evolving symbiotically with a fungus which they farm for food and binder (for mortar), they had to find a mechanism by which they could survive the encroaching savannah and receding forests some 50 million years ago. The termite mound is the result. It allows themselves and the fungus to thrive in conditions similar to the ancient forests from which they both came [before termites and fungus, trees that died in the ancient forests did not decompose and so could go on to form coal]. As a study of colonization or building in arid or hostile territories we have a lot to learn. The mound is an extension of homeostatic physiology and components of biological function are 'outsourced' by the termites themselves. Termites outsource reproduction to the single male and female, they outsource digestion to the fungus and they outsource respiration to the mound. The mound sits between them and death and must respond dynamically to external and internal changes alike. The materials they build respond to changes in moisture, heat, pressure and are 'smart'. The ventilation/respiratory system functions in the same manner as our own.
We now understand termite behaviour and how a dynamic habitat is both built and emerges. A habitat must be adapted closely to the occupant (more closely than our homes are). Walls become 'membranes, not barriers' to energy flows. It's the building itself which interacts with the environment, it is an insolation panel, a heat exchanger, a diffusion structure, a solar panel just by 'being there', with topological structures which induce resonant and tidal ventilation phenomena.
Of course, it's all about large-scale rapid manufacturing, as the only method to produce such complex dynamics within a structure [out of interest there's now three systems up and running- you all know Berok's and we have our first machine running but check out Enrico Dini in Pisa, Italy with the Monolite process] and Adrian correctly points towards the next step.
The robotic termites we are working towards not only construct but maintain or inhabit the structure allowing the continuous process of environmental adjustment such a habitat would require. We are working on termite behavioral algorithms which result in both physical structure and ongoing maintenance/adaptation through 'structural homeostasis'. We are considering termites themselves as the construction agent by selectively jetting pheromone to induce built structures for us.
We are about to reveal our findings to at a workshop at Loughborough on May 15th (e-mail me if you would like to be the first to hear the story). We want to gauge understanding and our ability to put across the science before we release to a global panel through an international event in Cape Town next March. I'm looking for partners and sponsors to take this forward and other commercial aspects.
Dr Rupert Soar
The Rapid Manufacturing Research Group and
Freeform Construction Laboratory
Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering
Tel: +44 (0) 1509 227637
Cel: +44 (0) 7973219624
Yours is not an inconceivable application of existing and relatively
near-term technologies. A number of robot art projects exist that do
essentially what you propose. I only wish I had a paying client to put
it all together.
First of all, your idea to combine it with Marshall's Moon concept is
brilliant. A robot that has all of the time in the world to trek across
a planet (Mars and Venus also come to mind), powered by very low levels
of solar radiation, able to work slowly, tediously, but predictably, in
a space and time that no human would or could tolerate, has tremendous
economical advantages. We can also imagine applications here on Earth.
I have even seen concepts where a living plant shifts its weight in
response to the position of the sun, in order to create enough pressure
for a pedal, like a footfall on a bicycle, to move a robot forward. We
are talking really slow progress here, a foot a day, but a robot doesn't
If we are talking about preparing a far-off planet for some eventual
human occupation, then we may not care about slowly the robots work to
prepare an infrastructure, such as a solar-powered communications
network, as long as it progresses at a predictable rate. If the space
agencies could send robots well in advance, such a network could have a
variety of scientific research and environmental evaluation applications
that would be valuable, whether or not a human team is eventually sent
to live there.
Vast sections of Earth, deserts, outbacks, etc., could serve as testing
grounds of more immediate value. While many of these might be of social
benefit, the money to pay for them is limited. I have had some thoughts
recently that alternative financing methods are possible, such as
environmentally-concerned individuals willing to pay money to support
poor remote rural individuals to install and monitor [robots, in this
case, and] networks or the use of carbon credits or other alternative
currency/money systems to trade service for service or other values.
Perhaps Adrian has other contacts in the open-source world that are more
creative than I am in this regard.
Adrian Bowyer wrote:
> Quoting Stewart Dickson <mathart@...>:
>> Back in the old days, Marshall Burns wrote essays proposing SLS
>> machines which ran on sand.
>> A new way to build a pyramid.
>> If it would work on Mars, it would work in Africa.
> I have thought for some time that it would be fun to build a robot
> that crawled very very slowly across sand, digging it up, refining it,
> extracting trace elements, and using the results to make PV cells
> inefficiently and badly.
> These it would leave connected up in a trail behind it as it moved
> forward a few meters per day. The cells would provide all the power
> it needed, of course.
> But what on Earth could we do with all the spare power that would be
> available after it had been left to wander about in a desert for a few
> years? There must be some use for it...
> Best wishes
> Dr Adrian Bowyer
Cote' Art & Engineering
Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to
make your soul grow." (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1923-2007)