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Ant Robots: Swarms of Ants Have Inspired Robots

Why choose ants as an inspiration for designing robots?​

It is often said that humans are social animals. But have you ever wondered if there are other animals that are known for their social behavior? Yes, there are! Ants, termites, bees, butterflies, and moths are all especially social animals. This means that these animals always work together. Whether their goal is finding food, fighting an enemy, or making special food for their queen, these animals work in a group.

Army ants in particular have reached perfection in team building activities. They live in large colonies with more than a million members. From gathering food to caring for their young, they coordinate every single activity.

Despite their brilliant coordination, what caught the eyes of scientists is a particular characteristic. Whenever an army ant is looking for food or anything else and it comes across a gap too wide for it to cross individually, the ant signals for other ants to help out. Immediately, the ants line up and link their bodies from head to tail, forming a bridge through their linked bodies. The first ant is then able to walk on this ant-bridge and cross the gap.

Image Credit-EPFL-Marc Delachaux

How will these robots help us?​

These robots will be used for searching, rescuing, and traveling in disaster-struck terrains. They will be helpful in looking for survivors, as well as misplaced objects, in places that have been struck by a natural or man-made calamity. Since disaster-struck places have uneven terrain, the ant robots will be able to signal other ant robots to help. Any gap that prevents a survivor from being rescued will then be overcome. They might also be used for space exploration and excavations!

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Has an ant robot been built yet?​

Yes! Prof. Aydin from the University of Notre Dame has built a batch of 3D-printed four-legged robots that can work together. Each robot measures 15–20 cm in length. They successfully mimic their inspiration animal. Whenever a robot gets stuck because of any obstacle in its path, it immediately signals the other robots. The robots arrive and connect to each other using their magnetic parts. In this way, they can form a gap-crossing bridge or an obstacle-climbing train. In addition, they can work together to carry objects too large or heavy for an individual robot to manage.

What are some concerns regarding these robots?

Since these robots walk on legs rather than rolling on wheels, they might not be able to walk up very steep surfaces. In addition, their sensors must be very sensitive and specific to the signal sent by their fellow robots to avoid missing a signal or catching a false signal from somewhere else.

Read the passage on these amazing ant-inspired robots and answer the following questions.

  1. What defines social animals?
  • They carry out all activities together as a colony
  • They mingle with other animals
  • They carry out activities for humans
  • All of the above
Ans: a
  1. Which behavior of ants inspired scientists to build these robots?
  • Building nests for the queen ant
  • Caring for their young
  • Linking their bodies upon receiving a signal
  • Looking for food together
Ans: c
  1. How might ant robots help humans?
  • Finding victims during war
  • Saving injured people during a flood
  • Finding and studying objects in space
  • All of the above
Ans: d
  1. Which might be a concern while building these robots?
  • They might attack humans and take over the world
  • They might face difficulty while climbing steep mountains
  • They won’t link to form a bridge
  • There are no concerns
Ans: b

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