During our first talk of a guest teacher, in the last design-period, I got interested in the way one could reach something really complicated by following some simple rules. We made tree-kind of forms according to a few rules, and however these rules where really simple we created quite complicated structures. I was questioning myself if this way of reaching complicated goals was also being used by non-artists, scientists, researchers, architects and maybe in nature as well. This is how I started my investigation and got to a website of a scientist named Chris Melhuish. He has got a lab at the university of Oxford, where he’s investigating ants ad robot’s together with ant-researcher Ana Sendova-Franks.
From a distance an anthill seems to be a lot of chaos. All the ants are just running around without a clear common goal and without noticing each other. If one would look more closely, his opinion won’t change that much. One ant is carrying some food or a larva to a nice looking place and another ant will just as easy bring it back to the beginning point. They just care about finishing there own tasks, and don’t care about what the other ants are doing.
An Ant has no sense of a higher purpose, and doesn’t know for what reason he is actually working. Therefore the organization of an ant colony is far too complicated. Nobody has got the survey and there is no unified management. Even the queen hasn’t. Some scientists are looking at ant colonies as being one organism, which exists out of a lot of smaller animals.
And so does Chris Melhuish, however some ants aren’t working that effective, as a whole, an ant colony seems who work quite well. After all they are living on planet earth for millions of years now. This antsystem has a lot of advantages for robots as well. Using a lot of small stupid robots solves for example lots of miscommunication if all the robots are just deciding themselves what they are doing, because mistaken tasks of a higher power won’t exist anymore. They are also more vulnerable when a higher power is deciding everything. If this higher power would pass away or something, they won’t know what to do any longer. Another big advantage of using a lot of small stupid robots is that it won’t cost lots of money to build them.
U-bot, one of the ant robots of Melhuish
Scientists are now thinking about the use of these robots at another planet or for the use of nanobots. In the case of nanobots, which are really small robots, it would be very useful to use simple robots that don’t need complicated soft- or hardware, because you just don’t have the space for it. You could for example use these nanobots in paint for bridges or buildings to discover small cracks in the paint or even to find weak spots in the iron. When using Robots on the moon or another planet it would be a really big benefit to use a big amount of cheap and simple robots. It won’t matter if one or two robots wouldn’t work or would get destroyed by landing at this planet.
Besides the technological use of these robots I think there are also great possibilities to use them in art. For example interactive art, because you can easily instruct these robots to complete certain tasks, while they will never complete this task in the same way. There will always be a certain randomness in the way they will complete their task. A second benefit to use these robots in interactive art is that it doesn’t matter in which kind of environment you will place them, they can work in any kind of environment because they react on the things that are happening around them.
The beauty of this system for me is that you don’t have to be effective to create an effective system while a lot of futuristic city-systems like Aurovile, discussed earlier at this blog, are based on pure effectiveness. One ant can carry some food or a larva to a nice looking place and another ant can just as easy bring it back to the beginning point, however at the end they will reach there final goal. Actually it’s a kind of anarchy, there is no higher power to check or instruct them, they have got all the information they need since their creation.