Termite-Inspired Robots for Collective Construction

Termite-Inspired Robots for Collective Construction

Mound-building termites build large-scale complex structures using millions of individuals and no central point of control. Inspired by these termites, we developed TERMES, a swarm construction system in which large numbers of autonomous robots build human-scale structures according to user-specified blueprints. The system is comprised of a control algorithm for decentralized construction of 3D structures using stigmergy, exploiting implicit rather than explicit communication; and a physical implementation where three robots reliably assemble such structures using only local sensing, limited locomotion, and simple control, exploiting embodied rather than explicit intelligence.


This project started at Harvard University 2009-2014 in the SSR-lab. We are continuing this work by extending the capabilities of the robots to enable them to build a much wider subset of structures than was possible with the first version. We also strive towards a significantly higher level of error tolerance, making it possible for large robot collectives to autonomously construct large-scale structures without human intervention in real life.

Watch movies here.


  • J. Werfel, K. Petersen, and R. Nagpal, “Distributed Multi-Robot Algorithms for the TERMES 3D Collective Construction System.” Modular Robotics Workshop, Intl. Conference on Robots and Systems, 2011.
  • K. Petersen, R. Nagpal, and J. Werfel, “TERMES: An autonomous robotic system for three-dimensional collective construction,” Robotics: Science and Systems Conference (RSS), Los Angeles, USA, 2011.
  • J. Werfel, K. Petersen, and R. Nagpal, “Designing Collective Behavior in a Termite-Inspired Robot Construction Team,” Science, Vol. 343 (6172), pp: 754-758, 2014.