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These adorable robots work together to build alien structures

Their strangely beautiful work, which can rise up to 15 feet into the air, belies their potential as autonomous builders in disaster zones and elsewhere.

These adorable robots work together to build alien structures

We’ve seen how large-scale 3D printers can be used to “print” structures like army barracks and even houses. But at MIT’s Mediated Matter Group, researchers are developing a new–and very cute–kind of construction robot.

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They’re called Fiberbots: small robots that work as a group to wind fiberglass filament into large structures, from buildings to art installations. These digital agents can be paired to work together as a team in order to build complicated, organically shaped three-dimensional structures as high as 15 feet tall. Check them out in action:

Announced earlier this week, each Fiberbot consists of a winding arm and a motorized base. The winding arm is connected to a tank on the ground by a tube. The tank contains fiber and resin, which the winding arm sucks to mix it in its nozzle, creating a filament that gets spun by the arm around the entire Fiberbot’s body. Once it’s done building this small segment around itself, the robot turns an ultra-violet light that cooks the fiberglass filament in place, solidifying it. Then the robot uses its base–which has a small electric motor that moves small wheels–to move up to the segment it has hardened, where it repeats the same fiberglass winding operation. According to the researchers, the robot can change directions by angling itself little by little as it builds, letting it achieve complex curves in 3D.

Each of the bots is autonomous and fully aware of the others’ positions–they communicate using Wi-Fi–which ensures they don’t collide.

The spectacle of watching them work is almost as interesting as the technology itself. They look like alien worms growing from the Earth, twisting and writhing as they rise.

The MIT  researchers envision the bots building structures in extreme situations, such as after natural disasters. Just airdrop a few of these into position, give them the mission to build a bridge over a river, and wait a few hours.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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