Collective Robotic Construction

Termite-Inspired Robots for Collective Construction

Collective construction is a a key research area for our lab, both because of a high societal need and because it showcases how collective embodied intelligence fits within the broader scheme of artificial intelligence in robotics. Inspired by distributed construction in termites, honey bees, and ants, we design robot collectives for both blueprint-specific and functionally driven construction. In these systems, intelligent behavior may stem from centralized controllers; compilers that run prior to construction; locally-checkable rulesets that govern behavior during construction; morphological intelligence and reflex-like behaviors; co-design between robots, material, and how the structure evolves; and from both explicit communication between robots and implicit environmental coupling. We are further looking at how errors propagate in these stigmergy-governed systems, dependent on the dynamics of the environment.

Watch old movies out of the SSR lab here.


  • Chen, Jiahe and Kirstin Petersen. “2D Construction Planning for Swarms of Simple Earthmover Robots”. Accepted to the 17th Intl. Symposium on Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems (DARS 2024). Proceedings to come.
  • Luyang Robby Huang, Alexander Zhu, Kathleen Wang, Daniel Goldman, Andy Ruina, and Kirstin Hagelskjaer Petersen. “Construction and Excavation by Collaborative Double-Tailed SAW Robots,” in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 3742-3748, April 2022, doi: 10.1109/LRA.2022.3146562. (Paper)(Bibtex)(Video)
  • Jiahe Chen and Kirstin Petersen, “Decay-Based Error Correction in Collective Robotic Construction,” 2022 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), Kyoto, Japan, 2022, pp. 01-07, doi: 10.1109/IROS47612.2022.9981721. (Paper)
  • Jiahe Chen, Yifang Liu, Adam Pacheck, Hadas Kress-Gazit, Nils Napp, and Kirstin Petersen. (2022) Errors in Collective Robotic Construction. In: Matsuno F., Azuma S., Yamamoto M. (eds) Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems. DARS 2021. Springer Proceedings in Advanced Robotics, vol 22. Springer, Cham. (Paper)(Bibtex)
  • Andrea Ling, Mahshid Moghadasi, Kowin Shi, Jungshien Wei, and Kirstin Petersen. “Formica Forma: Explorations in Insect-Robot Collaboration for Emergent Design & Manufacturing”, presented at ACADIA 2020: Distributed Proximities.
  • Yawen Deng, Yiwen Hua, Nils Napp, and Kirstin Petersen,  “Scalable Compiler for the TERMES Distributed Assembly System.” Robotics and Autonomous Systems Journal,, July 2019. (Paper)
  • Kirstin H. Petersen, Nils Napp, Robert Stuart-Smith, Daniela Rus, and Mirko Kovac. “A review of collective robotic construction.” Science Robotics, 13 Mar 2019: Vol. 4, Issue 28, DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aau8479. (Paper)(Teaser video).
  • Yawen Deng, Yiwen Hua, Nils Napp, and Kirstin Petersen,  “Scalable Compiler for the TERMES Distributed Assembly System.” Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems. Springer, Cham, 2019. 125-138. (Pdf)
  • Yiwen Hua, Yawen Deng, and Kirstin Petersen, “Robots building bridges, not walls.” In 2018 IEEE 3rd International Workshops on Foundations and Applications of Self* Systems (FAS* W) (pp. 154-159). IEEE. (Pdf)
  • 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 (Paper).
  • 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 (Pdf).
  • 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 (Pdf).