The robot copies exceptional navigation talent of the desert ants to locate themselves in space
Desert ants are extraordinary solitary navigators. In particular, Cataglyphis, or desert ants, can trek several hundreds of meters in direct sunlight across the desert in order to find their food, and then they go directly to the nest, without getting lost. The temperatures in the desert do not enable ants to use pheromones for navigation. Desert ants’ extraordinary talent to find their way relies on two pieces of information: first, the direction of movement is measured using the sky's polarized light - so ants have some sort of “celestial compass”, and second, the distance covered is measured by counting steps and considering the movement pace according to the position of the sun assessed optically by their eyes. So, combination of information on distance and direction allow ants to smoothly return to the nest.
Researchers from CNRS and Aix-Marseille University (France), inspired by ants, designed AntBot, the robot which copies exceptional capacities of the desert ants to locate themselves in space. AntBot can explore its environment and go back home without using GPS or mapping.
AntBot is equipped with an optical compass which determines robot’s direction of movement by means of polarized light. Also, the brand-new robot has an optical movement sensor directed to the sun - this sensor measures the distance covered. Using these devices, AntBot is able to explore its environment and to go back on its own to its base, with precision of up to 1 cm after having covered a distance of 14 meters. The robot weighs 2.3 kg and has six feet which improve AntBot’s mobility and allow it to move in complex environments.
This invention opens up new strategies for navigation in autonomous vehicles and robotics. The work was published in the Science Robotics journal on Ferbuary 13, 2019.
Author: Alena Snezhnaya