Next time you're stuck in traffic and antsy to get to your destination, think of this new mantra: What Would Ants Do?
A team of researchers in Germany's Dresden Institute of Technology are studying how humans can apply ant-think to clear up clogged roads and make traffic flow faster, thus reducing idling times where no one is going anywhere. The study is headed up by collective intelligence expert Dirk Helbing who hopes to learn how ants figure out their way of moving around in their crowded colonies and apply that to the crowded colonies on our urban roads.
The ants are being studied for how they respond collectively when two paths are created. Both paths are made up of sugar syrup meal and the only difference between them is one lane is much narrower than the other. When the narrow route, as expected, became congested, ants know to tell each other to redirect their travels. An ant returning from the congested narrow route encounters another ant heading up that route and pushes that ant towards the wider lane. Similarly, an ant on the wide path with no congestion does not redirect an ant entering into the lane.
The researchers reported in their findings in this week's New Scientist that they found that just before the shortest route got congested, outgoing ants diverted incoming ants to another route and traffic jams along the sugar syrup meal corridor never formed.
The German researchers then applied what they learned in studying the insects and created a computer model of more complex networks of routes of varying lengths. They discovered that ants continued to do the same thing, redirecting incoming ants to less congested corridors and even if the incoming ants were pushed into a longer route, they still managed to get to the food quickly and efficiently.
Now imagine cars traveling in one direction being able to remotely tell oncoming vehicles what traffic conditions they are about to enter into so they could divert their route. The long and lonesome road may in the future get more efficient with a little bit of help from ants.
written by Todd, November 10, 2008
written by Marilyn Terrell, November 12, 2008
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