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Robot Ants Show Efficiency and Intelligence Without Cognitive Thought

Science

Robot Ants Show Efficiency and Intelligence Without Cognitive Thought

Have you ever been so good at a task that you didn’t have to think about it, you just did it? If so, then you know how an ant lives its everyday life. Without the burden of having to process cognitive thought, ants become one of the most efficient creatures on earth, and that idea is proven by the technology that went into robot ants at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, in Newark, and at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition, in Toulouse, France. These ants use ant or swarm robotics technology to work and behave in a similar method to real ants, which is efficient, fast, and extremely well without using any cognitive thought at all.

robot ants

* Watch the video at the end of the page to see these robots in action!

Rise of the Robot Ants?

Ant robotics are called swarm robotics for a reason. They act and behave in a pattern decided by a single mind, allowing multiple ants to do the same thing without flaw. These ants follow trails and geographical signs effortlessly, perform tasks far outside of their tiny appearance, and could even improve human efficiency. But are ant robots likely to take over any time soon? Despite everything they are capable of, you would think that ants, and their robotic counterparts, would soon outrival anything from Terminator. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, ants are actually quite stupid. A single ant has fewer thinking neurons in its entire body than the tip of your little finger. Despite the fact that they are quite good at getting things done, they have neither the intelligence nor the drive to do anything other than what they are programmed to do.

No Cognitive Thinking Allows Faster Decisions

By setting robot ants up to have a similar thinking system to real ants, researchers have allowed them to become extremely efficient decision makers. Robot ants do not waste time or energy deciding between things but simply automatically choose the easiest path. For example, making a decision at a fork in the road is as simple as choosing the fastest/most efficient route, no thinking required, simply geographical knowledge.

Simon Garnier, who in part led the study, worked with his robot ants for roughly two years to receive the results he wanted. Now, his robots work and act in the most efficient method possible, without wasting energy on cognitive thought.

“We programmed our robots so that they would not actively measure the angle of the (fork in the road), they would just move and carry on,” Garnier said to National Geographic.

Guy Theraulaz, a French researcher who also worked on the project, had another way of putting it. “we are overloaded with information, but we didn’t develop the appropriate filter,” said Theraulaz, “Now we produce a kind of collective madness, and that’s the problem.”

Practical Applications for Ant Robots

What sort of practical applications could you use a tiny robot for? Actually a lot! Ant robots are currently used in mapping programs as well as terrain coverage, path finding, route planning, and more. With new theories in place, researchers even estimate that some people may put the ‘Ant algorithm’ into place to help make everything from companies to roads more efficient. With more studies of Ant robots and their brains in place, Theraulaz and Garnier even suggest that ant robot technology could be used in planning cities, highways, and pretty much anything that requires complex planning.

How They Work

The Ant robots in the video here work using pheromones to ‘trail blaze’ similarly to actual ants. These pheromones where then used by other ants to decide on which path worked the best for any given ant. All of the ant robots then followed the most efficient path in the maze.

The ant robot study was used to learn how ants work. Despite being tiny, having poor eyesight, and being quite stupid, they are still some of the fastest and most efficient decision makers on the planet. The study by Theraulaz and Garnier is designed to help humans harness that decision making ability for our benefit.

What do you think? Leave a comment below to ask any questions or voice opinions about this new application of ant robotics.