In what has to be one of the most wasteful ways to traverse stairs, Harvard's Self-organizing Systems Research Group has designed a robot that builds its own access ramps by randomly flinging thousands of glue-covered toothpicks. When the pile eventually solidifies, it provides a sturdy support for the robot to climb.
It's another attempt to design an automaton that can adapt and problem solve in any situation. Whether it's working in a factory or locating survivors after a natural disaster. And while the toothpick approach is admittedly messy, it doesn't require extensive processing on the robot's part, so it can be designed and build on the cheap.
It also doesn't always have to be toothpicks either. In the same way a bird builds a nest from twigs and branches, a robot could use whatever was immediately available to build custom tools to solve a problem -- or a first-grade arts and crafts project. [Harvard SSR via Automaton]