Termite Robots Build Houses Instead of Tearing Them Down!

In New Jersey, termites pose a formidable threat to Monmouth County home owners. Attacking one out of every five New Jersey homes, Eastern subterranean termites cause millions of dollars of structural damage every year. Living in huge, complex underground colonies, these industrious wood-eating insects can eventually cause structural collapse if infestations go undetected.

While known for their destructive behavior in the U.S., termites in Africa and Australia are better known for their building talent, perhaps because they construct their homes above ground where their building techniques can be observed. Different termite species than those found in the U.S., African and Australian mound-building termites construct gigantic conical mounds that can rise 40 feet (about 3 stories) above the landscape.

Inspired by the speed and efficiency with which termites build these amazing structures, Harvard University scientists have designed termite robots that may someday be able to build houses instead of destroying them. Dubbed “termbots,” the hand-sized robots behave much like mound-building termites, coordinating their movements by assessing completed work and adding to it without communicating with each other or receiving direction from a central command source. Programmed only with knowledge of the desired finished construction, the robots are able to move, layout and stack blocks to build structures. (Click here to watch termbots in action on Ceramics.org.)

Termites’ ability to perform complicated tasks without apparent instruction is likely a function of the strict caste society in which these insects live. Each termite plays a specific role in the colony’s growth and maintenance with the individual insect’s function determining its size and physical appearance. Termite exterminators NJ actually use termites’ caste-determined function and behavior to exterminate New Jersey termite colonies. We’ll talk about that another time.