Breakthrough Brings Insect Communication One Step Closer To AI, Self-Driving Cars


Computer scientists at University of Lincoln achieve breakthrough in pheromone-based swarm communications in robots

Artificial intelligence (AI) used in self-driving cars and surveillance technology will one day benefit from the same systems that insects such as ants use to communicate with one another.

A low-cost system that mimics the way insects use pheromones to communicate in swarms has been implemented into robotic and AI platforms after a scientific breakthrough by computer scientists and the University of Lincoln.

Called swarm robotics, the method is used to help coordinate multi-robot systems and their interaction with their surrounding environments by replicating the pheromone-based communication of insect swarms.

Collision sensors

Researchers say that the approach has contributed to the development of highly accurate vehicle collision sensors, surveillance technology and even helped in video game programming.

artificial intelligence
A Google self-driving car

Scientists at the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science have now managed to create a unique artificial pheromone system that uses “off the shelf” components such as an LCD screen and a cheap USB camera.

The system allows users to simulate several pheromones, which are displayed in the form of visual trails on the screen, and to change their strength to allow for controllable experiments.

The scientists call it COS-phi (Communication System via Pheromone).

Farshad Arvin, PhD researcher in the School of Computer Science who leads the project, said: “Nature is one of the best sources of inspiration for solutions to different problems in different domains, and this is why swarm robotics has developed into such an important area of study. It takes insights from the behaviours and coordination capabilities of social insects, where the success of a group in accomplishing a task relies heavily on the interactions among its members.

“That is why we are pleased to have devised an effective new system based on fast and precise visual localisation. It allows us to simulate a virtually unlimited number of different pheromones and showcases the results of their interactions as a gray-scale image on a horizontal LCD screen which the robots move on.”

Using the COS-phi system, the researchers found that their micro robots were able to follow the leader, or pheromone distributor, without any outside direction or communication.

The scientists said that the success of the system means that it can now be widely used in bio-inspired swarm robotic research projects, and it paves the way for further studies in this area.

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