Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Robotic Ants To Rescue!

By Jay Soni

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

Nature’s magnificence does not limit itself to stars afar, but also extends in a tiny world. One creature in this tiny space is Formicidae, generally known as ants. Individual ants are relatively simple creatures and yet a colony of ants can perform really complex tasks, such as intricate construction, foraging and defense. Scientists have developed multiple technologies inspired from ants, for example, adapting their learning process for deep neural networks.

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

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From their observations, the team identified two relevant parameters to understand the excavation task of the ants; the strength of collective cooperation, and the rate of excavation. Numerical simulations of mathematical models that encode these parameters showed that the ants can successfully excavate only when they cooperate with each other sufficiently strongly while simultaneously excavating efficiently.

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

“We showed how the cooperative completion of tasks can arise from simple rules and similar such behavioral rules can be applied 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 lead authors of the paper.


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