Robot mimics desert ants to find its way home without GPS

    Robot mimics desert ants to find its way home without GPS

    AntBot can find its way home without GPS

    Julien Dupeyroux/Aix Marseille University / CNRS

    By Donna Lu

    A six-legged robot can find its way home without the help of GPS, thanks to tactics borrowed from desert ants.

    The robot, called AntBot, uses light from the sky to judge the direction its going. To assess the distance travelled it uses a combination of observing the motion of objects on the ground as they pass by and counting steps. All three of these techniques are used by desert ants.

    To test AntBot, Stéphane Viollet at the Aix-Marseille University in France and colleagues set an outdoor homing task: first go to several checkpoints, then return home.


    AntBot consitently completed the task and was only a few centimetres off its home target on average.

    Many insects naturally perform similar tasks when foraging. They take meandering paths when visiting their favourite spots before returning directly home in a straight line — AntBot did the same.

    However, one drawback was that AntBot’s positioning system overheated after long periods of use, limiting the distance it could travel to 14 metres.

    The team is currently working on a new version of the robot that can travel further. They believe the technology could provide an important back-up navigation system when GPS fails, such as commonly occurs between tall buildings.

    “We are working with a French car manufacturer to try to implement our celestial compass on board a [driverless] vehicle,” says Viollet. The next challenge will be to improve the sensor to ensure that the navigation system is accurate at night, in rainfall, or under the cover of trees.

    Journal reference: Science Robotics , DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aau0307

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