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Principles of Ant Locomotion Could Help Future Robot Teams Work ­nderground

A model of a steampunk ant.

Researchers believe they have uncovered fundamental principles of locomotion by watching fire ants with video-tracking equipment and X-ray computed tomography.

Credit: Kaine Lowenstark

Georgia Tech researchers say they have discovered the fundamental principles of locomotion that robot teams could use to quickly and easily travel through underground tunnels.

The researchers made their discovery by studying fire ants using video-tracking equipment and X-ray computed tomography. "These ants can teach us some remarkably effective tricks for maneuvering in subterranean environments," says Georgia Tech professor Daniel Goldman.

The researchers placed groups of fire ants in tubes of soil and allowed them to dig tunnels for 20 hours. The researchers varied the size of the soil particles from 50 microns to 600 microns, and altered the moisture content from 1 to 20 percent. Although the variations in particle size and moisture content generated changes in the volume of tunnels produced and the depth that the ants dug, the diameter of the tunnels remained constant.

"The size of the tunnels appears to be a design principle used by the ants, something that they were controlling for," Goldman says.

This scaling effect enables the ants to make best use of their antennae, limbs, and body to rapidly ascend and descend in the tunnels by interacting with the walls and limiting the range of possible missteps, says Georgia Tech's Nick Gravish.

From Georgia Tech News
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