The robots do not resemble their insect counterparts; they are tiny cubes equipped with two watch motors to power the wheels that enable them to move. But their collective behaviour is remarkably ant-like. 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, the researchers report in the open access journal Plos Computational Biology, is in their ability to take cues from one another – just like an insect swarm.
“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.”
This is because, like ants, the robots leave a trail that the others follow; while ants leave a trail of chemicals – or pheromones – that their nest mates are able to sniff out, the robots leave a trail of light. Continue reading the main story You don’t need something as complex as choice to get some of the behavior you see in ants”
Dr Paul Graham University of Sussex See the ants of the world in 3D To achieve this, the researchers set up a camera to track the path of each robot. A projector connected to the camera then 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.
Dr Garnier explained: “[The robots each] have two antennae on top, which are light sensors. 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.” The researcher explained how both the robots and ants worked together, describing their navigation skills as a “positive feedback loop”.