Ants could know the answer to keeping traffic flowing smoothly. German scientists reported recently in New Scientist magazine that ants are able to avoid collisions and congestion on their own busy thoroughfares. The researchers see lessons in the ants’ strategies that might one day be applied to traffic management.
According to the German news agency Deutsche Presse, the team headed by Dr. Dirk Helbing from the Dresden University of Technology set up routes of different widths to run between the ants’ nest and a supply of sugar syrup. The researchers found that just before the shortest route became completely clogged, outgoing ants diverted incoming ants to another route and traffic jams along the route to the sugar syrup meal never formed.
The team then created a computer model of more complex networks of routes of varying lengths. They discovered that ants continued to do the same thing, redirecting incoming ants to less congested corridors and even if the incoming ants were pushed into a longer route, they still managed to get to the food with the kind of speed and efficiency that could be classified as an ergonomic solution to their needs.
In a report about the project in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, Dr Helbing said the efficient distribution of limited resources by decentralized, individual decisions is still an open problem in many networked systems. He described it as one of the most challenging problems in road traffic and of the routing of data on the Internet.
The trick now is to find out how ants pass on these "traffic reports" to each other. The scientists say that when they have unlocked that mystery, the day may not be far off when human drivers travelling in opposite directions could pass congestion information to each other in the same way.
Source: Deutsche Presse; Telegraph