An MIT Media Lab robot mimicked silk worms and spiders and wove a cocoon-like structure with a little programming help from humans.
Inspired by nature, the robot used yarn-like material that it placed around pegs and hooks on a cage built around it. It followed a predetermined course set by researchers, but eventually it will be autonomous.
Watch the robot weave its web on YouTube.
"We're looking at how you can make a manufacturing process that looks at its surroundings -- say branches or pegs -- that it can weave around," said Elizabeth Tsai, a research assistant at the Media Lab. She said the group plans to swap the yarn for nylon that can stretch when wet, but turns brittle once it dries.
The robot knows the positions of all the hooks and pegs that surround it, but with more work it should be able to sense its surroundings and build a custom structure.
"We're working on the sensing so it knows where it's going on its own," she said.
The Mediated Matter lab also works on 3D printing, but Tsai explained that this project is different.
"Usually with 3D printing you see layered manufacturing where you deposit one layer of material followed by another," she said. "Here we're using tensile elements like strings, ropes and elastic bands."
This method of construction offers an option to build a space within structural and environmental requirements, much like silkworms do.