Nav: Home

The first walking robot that moves without GPS

February 13, 2019

Human eyes are insensitive to polarized light and ultraviolet radiation, but that is not the case for ants, who use it to locate themselves in space. Cataglyphis desert ants in particular can cover several hundreds of meters in direct sunlight in the desert to find food, then return in a straight line to the nest, without getting lost. They cannot use pheromones: they come out when the temperature would burn the slightest drop. Their extraordinary navigation talent relies on two pieces of information: the heading measured using a sort of "celestial compass" to orient themselves using the sky's polarized light, and the distance covered, measured by simply counting steps and incorporating the rate of movement relative to the sun measured optically by their eyes. Distance and heading are the two fundamental pieces of information that, once combined, allow them to return smoothly to the nest.

AntBot, the brand-new robot designed by CNRS and Aix-Marseille University (AMU) researchers at ISM, copies the desert ants' exceptional navigation capacities. It is equipped with an optical compass used to determine its heading by means of polarized light, and by an optical movement sensor directed to the sun to measure the distance covered. Armed with this information, AntBot has been shown to be able, like the desert ants, to explore its environment and to return on its own to its base, with precision of up to 1 cm after having covered a total distance of 14 meters. Weighing only 2.3 kg, this robot has six feet for increased mobility, allowing it to move in complex environments, precisely where deploying wheeled robots and drones can be complicated (disaster areas, rugged terrain, exploration of extraterrestrial soils, etc.).

The optical compass* developed by the scientists is sensitive to the sky's polarized ultraviolet radiation. Using this "celestial compass", AntBot measures its heading with 0.4° precision by clear or cloudy weather. The navigation precision achieved with minimalist sensors proves that bio-inspired robotics has immense capacity for innovation. Here we have a trio of advances. A novel robot has been developed, new, innovative and unconventional optical sensors have been designed, and AntBot brings new understanding on how desert ants navigate, by testing several models that biologists have imagined to mimic this animal. Before exploring potential applications in aerial robotics or in the automobile industry, for example, progress must be made, for instance in how to operate this robot at night or over longer distances.
-end-
This work received support from the Direction Générale de l'Armement, CNRS, AMU, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region and from ANR under the Equipex/Robotex project.

* - This compass is composed of only two pixels topped by two polarized filters that turn to be equivalent to an optical sensor composed of two rows of 374 pixels. Turning the filters mechanically is an innovation that has reduced the sensor's production cost quite considerably, from over 78,000€ to only a few hundred euros, within the constraints of the biomimetics.

CNRS

Related Ants Articles:

Ants: Jam-free traffic champions
Whether they occur on holiday routes or the daily commute, traffic jams affect cars as well as pedestrians.
Ants fight plant diseases
New research from Aarhus University shows that ants inhibit at least 14 different plant diseases.
Australian ants prepared for 'Insect Armageddon'
La Trobe University researchers have uncovered an exception to the global phenomenon known as 'Insect Armageddon' in the largest study of Australian insect populations conducted to date.
Timing is everything for the mutualistic relationship between ants and acacias
Ant-acacia plants attract ants by offering specialized food and hollow thorns in which the ants live, while the ant colony in turn defends its acacia against herbivores.
Robot-ants that can jump, communicate with each other and work together
A team of EPFL researchers has developed tiny 10-gram robots that are inspired by ants: they can communicate with each other, assign roles among themselves and complete complex tasks together.
From vibrations alone, acacia ants can tell nibbles from the wind
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on Feb. 14 find that the ants of the acacia tree are tipped off to the presence of herbivores by vibrations that run throughout the trees when an animal gets too close or begins to chew.
Recruiting ants to fight weeds on the farm
Harvester ants that eat weed seeds on the soil's surface can help farmers manage weeds on their farms, according to an international team of researchers, who found that tilling less to preserve the ants could save farmers fuel and labor costs, as well as preserve water and improve soil quality.
For ants, unity is strength -- and health
When a pathogen enters their colony, ants change their behavior to avoid the outbreak of disease.
How plants evolved to make ants their servants
Plants have evolved ways to make ants defend them from attacks and spread their seeds, and this new study shows how it happened.
The making of soldier ants
Scientists at McGill have found the answer to a question that perplexed Charles Darwin.
More Ants News and Ants Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.