Artificial intelligence is a hot topic in the media at the moment, and rightly so. Huge developments are being made in the field of natural language processing (NLP). However, NLP is only one AI technique and there are equally exciting developments happening in many other areas.
One suitably futuristic idea is explored in this article which raises the tantalising possibility of using insect-inspired AI for building structures on Mars. The article discusses a research paper titled “Aerial additive manufacturing with multiple autonomous robots” which was published in Nature on 21 September 2022. The paper explores methods of “aerial additive manufacturing” - in other words, manufacturing 3D structures using a team of autonomous drones.
The researchers demonstrated “proof-of-concept prints including a cylinder 2.05 metres high consisting of 72 layers of a rapid-curing insulation foam material and a cylinder 0.18 metres high consisting of 28 layers of structural pseudoplastic cementitious material, a light-trail virtual print of a dome-like geometry, and multi-robot simulations”.
According to the article, one of the inspirations for the work is the nature of insects, in particular how bees work together to build their hives. In the field of insect inspired AI, this concept is known as “Swarming”. The idea is that AI can be used to help robots to act as a collective and overcome their individual limitations, providing a robust, scalable, and flexible system.
In the paper, the researchers used two robots working together: a Build-Drone and a Scan-Drone. The Build-Drone was responsible for laying down a cement-like material accurately, within a few millimetres; and the Scan-Drone was responsible for surveying the work of the Build-Drone. The researchers also demonstrated simulations involving building a structure using 15 swarming drones.
It’s difficult not to let your imagination get carried away with the possibilities of such a system, but one of our favourites was the author’s suggestion of using such systems for extra-planetary construction!