We’ve all been there: stranded, needing to get across a random body of water, but alas, there’s not a bridge in sight. Well, this swarm of autonomous, water-borne robots may be just the answer you’re looking for. Check out this video of this fleet of robots—called the Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform, or TEMP—coming together to build a custom bridge.
Two University of Pennsylvania students, Vijay Kumar and Mark Kim, in cahoots with DARPA, developed TEMP and put together this miniature demonstration in a swimming pool. In a full-sized version, each of these bots would be roughly the same size as a standard shipping container. Each individual piece comes together to form a larger platform in whatever shape your situation requires.
The biggest trick for Kumar and Yim was to come up with a way for each unit to perform the tasks required of it, without them all getting in each other’s way. This was accomplished using complicated algorithms that define the parameters of the unit’s size and assignment, in conjunction with unique visual identification that can be read by cameras, like a QR code you scan with your smartphone. Using these methods—the full-scale units will also employ GPS—the autonomous robots can execute their duties in an orderly fashion.
Once arranged properly, they use a “hook and tether” system to connect and hold themselves in position. Yim said, “We give them a structure, and then each boat figures out where to go and in what sequence to go to make that structure.”
In this incarnation, TEMP is only able to perform under optimal conditions. If this project does actually move forward—a big question mark given the potential costs that would be involved—the designers will have to take into account real-world complications like inclement weather and rough water.
However, if they overcome these obstacles, TEMP could be used in military missions and in areas suffering from natural disasters.