Robotic ants being designed to build homes on Mars

Washington, Oct 27 (IANS) Human beings might colonise Mars one day, but ant-sized microbots will have to build homes for the first group of pioneer scientists there.

“We now know there is water and dust so all they would need is some sort of glue to start building structures, such as homes for human scientists,” said Marc Szymanski, robotics researcher at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany.

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He is part of a team of scientists developing tiny robots that can perform different tasks collectively like termites, ants or bees, for the greater good of the colony.

Working in the European Union (EU) funded I-SWARM project, the team created a 100-strong posse of centimetre-sized robots and made considerable progress toward building swarms of ant-sized micro-bots.

Researchers have since worked to create swarms of robots able to reconfigure themselves and assemble autonomously into larger robots in order to perform different tasks, according to I-SWARM project release.

Their work is being continued in the Symbrion and Replicator projects funded by EU’s Seventh Framework Programme. Planet exploration and colonisation are just some of a seemingly endless range of potential applications for robots that can work together.

That is not only useful in space or in deep-water environments, but also while carrying out repairs inside machinery, cleaning up pollution or even carrying out tests and applying treatments inside the human body – just some of the potential applications envisioned for miniature robotics technology.

These robots use infrared to communicate, with each signalling another close by until the entire swarm is informed. When one encounters an obstacle, for example, it would signal others to encircle it and help move it out of the way.

A group of robots that the project team called Jasmine, which are a little bigger than a two-euro coin, use wheels to move around, while the smallest I-SWARM robots, measuring just three mm across, move by vibration. The I-SWARM robots draw power from a tiny solar cell, and the Jasmine machines have a battery.

The I-SWARM project can be watched on YouTube.