The trio of researchers followed the desert ant to develop a robot that can return to its starting point without GPS. This ant is able to travel one kilometer to feed, and return to its starting point. It has three tools to orient itself. It uses light to define a course. With the top of its eyes, it manages to capture elements in the light of the atmosphere that we humans do not see, and that help it to direct itself.

The desert ant, which lives between southern Spain and North Africa, moves without using the traces left by its fellow creatures because the pheromones are not resistant to the climate. Three researchers from the CNRS and the University of Aix-Marseille have studied the little animal. They work in a laboratory that has been studying the movements and navigation of insects for over thirty years.

Capabilities of interest to the army

But at the same time, she looks at the ground to evaluate the distance she has covered. And above all, incredibly, it counts the number of steps it takes. These elements were used as a basis for the design of a robot. It is called AntBot (the ant robot in English). With these tools, it is able to walk fifteen meters and return to its starting point with only seven centimeters of margin of error.

The military is interested in this research, which could be used for targeting binoculars. The automotive group Stellantis is looking at how to add this tool to the array of guidance instruments for the autonomous car. Finally, it could serve as a backup if the three current robot localization techniques fail. The ant technique would be the parachute for GPS in case of an industrial crash.

Article published on 13 August 2022

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