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New self-steering vehicle designed to mimic movements of ants

A team of engineers from the University of La Laguna (ULL) in the Canary Islands has designed the “Verdino”, a self-steering vehicle that can sense the road surface using a technique called Ant Colony Optimisation (ACO). This method is based on the behaviour used by ants to find the shortest way between their ant hill and sources of food.

The study’s lead author, Rafael Arnay, from the ULL’s, Department of Systems and Automatic Engineering and Computer Architecture and Technology told SINC that the ACO algorithms are used to resolve “problems of combinatory optimisation” and were inspired directly by ants.

In Nature, these insects leave a trail of pheromones as they move, which can be detected by smell and followed by other members of the colony. The pheromones evaporate over time, which means that the path used by those ants that move to and from the food source over the shortest distance is the most deeply reinforced by these chemical substances, and so is the one chosen by the other ants.

“The ACO technique is based, similarly, on a colony of artificial ants, in other words computational agents that work cooperatively and communicate with each other by means of artificial pheromone trails,” explains Arnay. This technique has been chosen by Canary Island engineers to allow the “Verdino” to keep to the correct path along the road without the need for any driver.

The prototype looks like vehicles used on golf courses, but it incorporates a camera that gathers the visual data necessary to apply the algorithms, as well as an internal control system that processes the data in real time. The “Verdino” is programmed to travel along unstructured roads, in other words those without lines painted on the surface, or with irregular edges caused by encroachment by soil or vegetation.

The engineers are currently testing the small car to be used as an internal transport system to link 25 housing units and a visitor centre in a bioclimatic housing development being built by the Technological and Renewable Energy Institute in the south of Tenerife, and they describe the first results as “very promising”.

The researchers believe the self-guided system could be commercialised and used in vehicles to be used in places such as historical town centres, tourist complexes, exhibition or sporting venues, shopping centres and industrial estates, and could even be used within remote security systems or in adapted cars for elderly or disabled people.

SINC Team | alfa
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