Tiny Robots Discover Learning Process from Ants

By Jay Soni

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Researchers have developed a tiny robot that mimics the behavior of rock ants to develop better understanding of how they teach each other.

Rock ants have been found to teach one another the location of the new nest and the route towards it. The key to this process of teaching is by tandem running and guiding one ant slowly towards the nest. The pupil ant learns the route of the new nest and its way back home efficiently and then initiates the run eventually guiding all other ants to the new place.

The researcher built an arena with a low quality old nest and a better one for relocation with appreciable distance between the two. A tiny robot was placed in that arena that was guided by the researchers using a gantry. Attractive scent glands, similar to the worker ants, were attached to the robot.

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Professor Nigel Franks of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences explained: “We waited for an ant to leave the old nest and put the robot pin, adorned with attractive pheromones, directly ahead of it. The pinhead was programmed to move towards the new nest either on a straight path or on a beautifully sinuous one. We had to allow for the robot to be interrupted in its journey, by us, so that we could wait for the following ant to catch up after it had looked around to learn landmarks.”

“When the follower ant had been led by the robot to the new nest, we allowed it to examine the new nest and then, in its own time, begin its homeward journey. We then used the gantry automatically to track the path of the returning ant.”

The results turned out to be positive as the robot was successful in teaching the route efficiently to the apprentice ants. The ants were able to find their way back to their old nests.

The application of this teaching algorithm can help us develop Artificial Intelligence and develop the concepts of machine learning as well as neural networks. As teaching is considered to be a key concept in this field the designed algorithm can be considered as an efficient boost for the technology.


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