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Robot Ants and Swarm Intelligence

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Researchers within Professor Jamie Paik’s Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have developed ant-like robots that bring a whole new aspect to AI. These 10-gram robot ants don’t have much physical intelligence as individuals, but when you put a group together, they are able to communicate and act as a collective unit. They have different locomotion modes, and each one is able to navigate on any type of surface. As a collective group, they are able to move objects that weigh a lot compared to their bodies; it is similar to a group of ants carrying a stick. As individuals, they act completely autonomous and are disconnected. Each ant robot consists of infrared and proximity sensors that are used to detect objects and communicate with each other. There is the possibility of adding more and different types of sensors than the ones they have now. 

These small, three-legged ant robots are shaped like a T and named Tribots. Because of their small size and easy build, they are suitable for mass production. They consist of thin, multi-material sheets that are folded into a stack. Based on the real-life Odontomachus ants that have the trap-jaw which is used to jump between leaves, each one of these AI ants has five different traits. The different movements are vertical and horizontal jumping, somersaulting, walking on textured terrain, and moving on flat surfaces. 

These robotic ants, whenever in a collective group, have distinct individual roles that include the explorer, the leader, and the worker. The explorers look for physical obstacles ahead, the leaders dictate the actions of the group, and the workers move objects. The ants are not tied or limited to one role; they can change whenever and in an instant. 

This type of technology can be used in real-life scenarios like emergency search missions as well as the health sector. In theory, they could enter into the bloodstream and detect certain problems; they could also carry the medicine into those precise problem areas. Because of the relative easiness of mass production, they can be used in large numbers. 

Another benefit is that they would be able to detect targets without having to use any type of GPS. Researcher Jamie Paik spoke on the possibilities of this technology. 

“With their unique collective intelligence, our tiny robots can demonstrate better adaptability to unknown environments; therefore, for certain missions, they would outperform larger, more powerful robots.” 

These robot ants are part of a new development within the AI world called Swarm Intelligence; think of ants, bees, wasps, and any other organisms that can work both autonomously and as a collective group. They will also be able to operate in our environment simultaneously with humans. 

They are made up of sensors, software, and connectivity components that allow them to physically move, contain algorithms that help make intelligent decisions, and communicate with each other. These are a huge development in AI as they will be able to collect information while they interact with the environment and one another. This will continue to develop them and make them more useful in infrastructure, products, and services. 

These swarms of robots have a shared common goal that they work towards while being autonomous. They are mostly self-sustainable in the sense that they can self-deploy, self-repair, and self-optimize. As a swarm, they are able to spread out the work between each other which allows for more efficiency and less communication disruptions. 

Just like with any AI, these robot ants need to have some restrictions. There will have to be a system of overrides and human interventions in case they do not follow proper instructions. They will also be vulnerable to privacy threats, and with the ever increasing interconnectivity of machines and AI, it is a serious problem. Certain regulations and privacy controls will need to be established. 

This new technology is just another aspect of the endless development that is taking place within the AI field. These will have a huge impact on our AI and what it can be used for.


Alex McFarland is a Brazil-based writer who covers the latest developments in artificial intelligence & blockchain. He has worked with top AI companies and publications across the globe.