The Loh Down On Science

Verdino the Ant Car

A self-steering golf cart mimics the patterns of ants.

Herbie the Love Bug move over!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Saying there's a brand new insect car in town.

Spain's Canary Islands aren't just hilly, they're home to two MILLION crowded-together people. Makes travel a challenge. For a solution, engineer Rafael Arnay of the islands' University of Laguna looked to--? ANTS, of course!

Ants always find the shortest route between their colony and food. How? By following their nose. As ants travel, they leave a scented trail of chemicals called pheromones, which their fellow ants track.

Like cheap perfume, pheromones evaporate fast, so the shortest path is the one most strongly reinforced by scent.

Arnay translated that logic to computer algorithms, and developed "Verdino." Verdino is a self-steering golf cart that maneuvers through unstructured roads, mimicking the pattern of ants.

Verdino uses what Arnay calls "Ant Colony Optimization.? Its camera captures visual clues--such as a previous vehicle's track marks--and transfers them to a computer. The computer then applies ant-derived algorithms, and picks the best route home

Unless there's a tempting picnic in the way. That's a given.


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