Antbot finds its way without GPS
French scientists and technicians created the Antbot, a little robot that finds its way like the desert ant, without GPS or a heavy load of expensive instrumentation.
The global positioning system has an accuracy of a few meters at the moment. The three dimensional image which is used demands far more expensive (and heavy) instrumentation than a little robot can carry. The solution: the desert ant.
Most ants find their way leaving a scent trail, which they can follow returning to their nest, but in the hot desert these scent trails would disappear very quickly, so the desert ant has another technique. It counts its steps and looks how quickly the soil beneath her passes. The sun is also used for orientation.
So French researchers equipped their Antbot with a step counter and light sensors and UV sensors to position the sun. They sent their robot wandering around in different weather conditions. The ant always came back within centimetres of its starting position.
This must be the first walking robot without a GPS system. It makes no use of several terabytes of memory, it doesn’t need complex radar systems. The two used sensors only have 14 pixels.
Small and cheap
“It’s another way to see artificial intelligence”, says robotics specialist Guido De Croon from TU Delft. De Croon didn’t participate in the creation of Antbot but he’s very interested. “Instead of being intelligent by adding brainpower, they try to be clever as simple as possible.”
Nature is, as always, a perfect source of inspiration. “Ants might be strong, if they would use a comparable system to GPS to navigate, they wouldn’t be able to carry their (too heavy) head.”
“It’s the type of research that can deliver small and cheap robots that can be very useful in search operations. You could drop hundred or two hundred of them in a wood and scan it completely”, De Croon adds.
There are things that have to be improved. The robots have to speed up, right now they only can do 10 cm a second and 14 metres as a whole. “They will have to recognize obstacles and work together in a clever way, otherwise they all go in the same direction.”
For the moment, the Antbot is not as clever yet as its desert counterpart. De Croon concludes: “If you work with these sort of robots, you just get more and more respect for nature.”