Scientists from US have built and tested tiny robots with collective behavior is remarkably ant-like. The tiny robotic cubes themselves do not resemble their insect counterparts; but scientists say that they behave just like a real ant colony.
By being programmed simply to move forward toward a target and avoid obstacles, the robot colony finds the fastest way through a network or maze. The secret is in their ability to take cues from one another – just like an insect swarm. Like ants which leave a trail of pheromones, the robots leave a trail that the others follow; a trail of light.
“Each individual robot is pretty dumb,” said Simon Garnier from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, lead researcher on the study. “They have very limited memory and limited processing power. By themselves, each robot would just move around randomly and get lost… but [they] are able to work together and communicate.”
The researchers set up a camera to track the path of each robot. A projector connected to the camera produced a spot of light at regular intervals along their route, leaving a “breadcrumb trail of light” that got brighter every time another robot tracked over the same path.
“[The robots each] have two antennae on top, which are light sensors.” Dr Garnier explained. “If more light falls on their left sensor they turn left, and if more light falls on the right sensor, they turn right. It’s exactly the same mechanism as ants. If there are two possible paths from A to B and one is twice as long as [the other], at the beginning, the ants [or] robots start using each path equally. Because ants taking the shorter path travel faster, the amount of pheromone (or light) deposited on that path grows faster, so more ants use that path.”
Scientists often observe ant colonies for inspiration since ants are arguably the most amazing living beings. Don’t believe me? Well, check them out…