RE: [rp-ml] Slow growth

From: thomas <>
Date: Tue Apr 29 2008 - 17:05:44 EEST


The individual you're referring to is Rupert Soar, at Loughborough

See and for further info...

Best regards,

Tom Modeen

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Marshall Burns
Sent: 29 April 2008 15:00
To: 'Brock Hinzmann'; 'Adrian Bowyer'
Subject: RE: [rp-ml] Slow growth

Hi Brock, Adrian, Stewart,

        Yes, this is really interesting stuff. Several years ago I
talked with some robotics folks at UC Berkeley about a proposed project
on what we called "synthetic termites." Termites are amazing critters.
They chew up wood and, coordinating the work of thousands of them
simultaneously, spew clumps of it semi-digested in patterns to build
structures that are awesome for both their size and complexity. African
termite mounds can be up to 30 feet tall. The walls are semi-permeable,
so that the mound functions as a huge, communal lung, extracting oxygen
from passing wind and exhaling carbon dioxide. The structures have rooms
to accommodate the queen and thousands of drones. The termite mound is a
marvel of natural fabrication.

        There's a guy from this RP community at a UK university whose
name escapes me at the moment who did a project in an African desert
some years ago where they encapsulated and physically sliced a termite
mound to digitize its structure.

        The idea of coordinating the actions of thousands or millions of
autonomous microrobots to pick up tiny pieces of some raw material and
deposit it in patterns to build up predetermined structures is one of
the ultimate concepts in digital fabrication. I look forward to seeing
some people pick up and implement this idea.

Marshall Burns <<< Warning: Severely outdated site,
                                    but with some cool old stuff.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Brock Hinzmann
Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 01:53
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 15:11:56 2008

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