Robotic Ants To Rescue! – Electronics For You


Researchers have developed a robot inspired by ants to perform cooperative tasks and solve complex tasks such as search and rescue and even defense.

The magnificence of nature does not limit itself to the distant stars, but also extends to the small world. One creature in this small space is the Formicidae, commonly known as ants. Individual ants are relatively simple creatures and yet a colony of ants can perform highly complex tasks, such as elaborate construction, foraging and defense. Scientists have developed many technologies inspired from ants, for example, adapting their learning process for deep neural networks.

Recently, Harvard researchers took inspiration from ants to design a group of relatively simple robots that can work together to perform complex tasks using only a few basic parameters. The research team began by studying how black carpenter ants work together to burrow and escape from a soft hedge.

From their observations, the team identified two relevant parameters to understand the excavation work of ants; the strength of collective cooperation, and the speed of excavation. Numerical simulations of mathematical models that encode these parameters show that ants can dig successfully only if they cooperate with each other with sufficient energy while simultaneously digging efficiently.

Based on these observations, the researchers built robotic ants, nicknamed RAnts, to see if they could work together to escape the same enclosure. Instead of chemical pheromones, RAnts use “photormones,” light fields left by roving RAnts that mimic pheromone fields or antennation.

“We show how the cooperative completion of tasks can arise from simple rules and the same behavioral rules can be used to solve other complex problems such as construction, search and rescue and defense.” said S Ganga Prasath, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and one of the paper’s lead authors.


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