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; rulesets that depend on local knowledge and govern behavior during construction; morphological intelligence; or information belayed explicitly between robots, passed through the environment, or even through direct physical perturbations. We are further looking at how errors propagate in these stigmergy-governed systems. Beyond robotic systems, we also develop instruments to aid studies of their natural counterparts. 


Watch old movies out of the SSR lab here.


  • Smith ML, Loope KJ, Chuttong B, Dobelmann J, Makinson JC, Saga T, Petersen K, Napp N. (2023) Honey bees and social wasps reach convergent architectural solutions to nest-building problems. PLoS Biol 21(7): e3002211. (Paper)
  • 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)
  • Michael L Smith, Nils Napp, and Kirstin H. Petersen. “Imperfect comb construction reveals the architectural abilities of honeybees” . (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.
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • K. Petersen et al., “Arrestant property of recently manipulated soil on Macrotermes michaelseni as determined through visual tracking and automatic labeling of individual termite behaviors.” Journal of Behavioral Processes, vol. 116: 8-11, 2015. (Paper)
  • 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, N. Napp, J. Chin-Lee, J. Werfel, and R. Nagpal, “3D Tracking of Building Processes in Macrotermes,” VAIB workshop, Intl. Conference on Pattern Recognition, 2012. (Pdf)
  • 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).