RE: [rp-ml] Slow growth

From: Rupert Soar <>
Date: Tue Apr 29 2008 - 23:02:48 EEST

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

Loughborough University



Tel: +44 (0) 1509 227637

Cel: +44 (0) 7973219624


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf
Of Brock Hinzmann
Sent: 29 April 2008 06:53
To: Adrian Bowyer
Subject: Re: [rp-ml] Slow growth


Dear Adrian,


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.


Brock Hinzmann

Technology Navigator


Adrian Bowyer wrote:

> Quoting Stewart Dickson <>:


>> 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


> Adrian


> Dr Adrian Bowyer




Received on Tue Apr 29 21:14:52 2008

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