Fire ants help Georgia Institute of Technology in designing search, rescue robots

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    Courtesy: National Geographic

    You wouldn’t naturally believe this news. But fire ants are actually helping Georgia Institute of Technology in designing search and rescue robots

    Ants we knew were clever and their living was very systematic compared to any other living being on earth, except of course human beings. Their advance and their relocation to new place was always in line that are never broken except in case of disasters and their tunnels are always very well connected and airy, ideal of a healthy life. But now ants are going to help make rescue  robot that will be ideal for search and rescue mission.

    Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology have been mesmerized by the fire ants in their dexterity and the power of their limbs. Reports suggest that these fire ants are going to help the scientists come up with impressive search and rescue robots. Scientists working on the search and rescue robots have been very impressed by the way these fire ants use their limbs to build well meaning tunnels that help them survive both good and bad weather. They saw how they build such tunnels in the loose sands and it has caught the fancy of the US scientists who plan to incorporate this concept in building the robots.

    Courtesy: National Geographic

    The report is making waves across the world and the finding of the study which has been published in the journal PNAS, was conducted by a team from the Georgia Institute of Technology who found that the fire ants can use their antennae as “extra limbs” to catch themselves when they fall along with building stable tunnels in loose sand. The research was conducted used high speed cameras to record the details behaviour of the fire ants while underground. In the research project that was led by Dr Nick Gravish, “scientific grade ant farms” were developed that  allowing the ants to dig through sand trapped between two plates of glass, so every tunnel and every movement could be viewed and filmed. Talking about the project, Gravish said: “These ants would move at very high speeds and if you slowed down the motion, (you could see) it wasn’t graceful movement – they have many slips and falls. Crucially, the insects were able to gather themselves almost imperceptibly quickly after each fall.”

    The team analysed the working of the fire ants very closely. In order to see how the fire ants managed the team set up a second experiment where, to move from their nest to their food source, the ants had to pass through a maze of smooth glass tunnels. The researchers were surprised to see that the ants would not just use their legs to catch themselves, but also engaged their antennae, essentially using these sensory “sniffing” appendages as extra limbs to support their weight. In the last phase of the research project researchers in a bid to look inside the hidden maze that the ants constructed underground, the ants were put into containers full of sand or soil to dig. The scientists had built a “homemade X-Ray CT scanner”, just like a medical scanner, to take 3D snapshots of the tunnels that the ants dug in different types of soil. The study revealed that the ant groups dug tunnels of the same diameter, irrespective of the soil conditions, which led to the conclusion that the fire ants were actively controlling their excavation to create tunnels of a fixed size.

    Another expert, Prof Dan Goldman, part of the team studying the fire ants says, “The overall aim was to distil the principles by which ants and other animals manipulate complex environments and bring them to bear in the design of search-and-rescue robotics. The state of the art search-and-rescue robotics is actually quite limited. Lots of the materials in disaster sites – landslides, rubble piles – are loose materials, which you’re going to potentially have to create structures out of. You might want, for example, to create a temporary structure for people buried down beneath. “Fire ants could build stable tunnels in sand or soil with almost no moisture to bind it together, so learning from them might enable designers to build and programme robots that solve these same engineering problems,” he added.