Ants offer clues to improve traffic flow, say experts

Wednesday, 26 November 2008, 08:00 Hrs
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Hamburg: Ever wonder how hundreds of ants are able to go up and down a narrow twig without bumping into each other? A team of German scientists wants to find out how ants avoid collisions so that they can use the same principle for traffic control.

The scientists built an ingenious super "ant farm" complete with roads, and bridges and a veritable city of ants. Then they observed the traffic patterns of the ants and fed their findings in to a computer.

The Dresden Institute of Technology collective intelligence expert Dirk Helbing and his team set up an ant highway with two routes of different widths from the nest to some sugar syrup, according to their findings, published in New Scientist.

Unsurprisingly, the narrower route soon became congested. But to the amazement of the scientists, they found that just before the shortest route became completely clogged, 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 by 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.

The trick now is to find out how ants pass on these "traffic reports" to each other.

The scientists say that when they have unlocked that mystery, the day may not be far off when human drivers travelling in opposite directions could pass congestion information to each other in this same way.
Source: IANS
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