October 1, 2013
Animal Behavior Study Provides Novel Thinking In Robot Control
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Animals deposit marks wherever they go to show their presence, according to a new study from the University of Bristol and Princeton University.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this study also shows that animals will retreat from marks left by a member of the same species more quickly if the mark they encounter is recent. This study has important implications for animal sociality and how epidemic disease spreads, the research team says.
Dr Luca Giuggioli of Bristol's Department of Engineering Mathematics and School of Biological Sciences said, "Movement phenomena are among the most basic characteristics of an animal's life. Understanding the causes and consequences of organism movement requires merging tools and ideas across different disciplines."
"This study shows the similarities between the mechanisms of environment-mediated interaction with which an insect colony may find resources and those with which a population of animals segregate in space by forming territories and home ranges."
"By viewing animal space use processes as a decentralized co-ordination of tasks, we provide a novel platform to develop more efficient algorithms to control robots in search and rescue operations, environmental monitoring and surveillance."
Dr. Giuggioli was joined on this study by Jonathan Potts, a postdoctoral researcher from Bristol, Daniel Rubenstein, director of the Program in African Studies, and Simon Levin, the George M. Moffett Professor of Biology, from Princeton University.
The team said that identifying how population level patterns emerge from the local rules of interaction between individuals is central to the future development of bio-inspired technologies. Gaining this knowledge is a major research theme at the Bristol Center for Complexity Sciences, where the study was carried out.
The team based their approach on the idea that animals communicate by modifying the environment in which they live. This provided the researchers with a method to analyze social cohesion as "stigmergy" - a form of animal-animal interaction mediated by the changes imparted to the environment by the wandering individuals. This study is the first to use the concept of stigmergy beyond the area of eusocial insects, such as bees, ants and wasps.
The researchers say that the type of stigmergic coordination studied here has direct implications for the deployment and decentralized control of robotic swarms, and is a topic of great interest in the emerging area of research called Movement Ecology.
The research team was able to predict how the spatio-temporal patterns that emerge depend on the degree of stigmergy of the interaction processes by considering a population of animals that mark the terrain as they move. This allowed the team to quantify animal decision-making processes in terms of current and past locations of other individuals, linking behavior to history-dependent actions.
The team took into account the movement and interaction of individuals in different social units and neighboring marked areas to conclude that it would be possible how the spatial extent of an epidemic outbreak is affected by the degree of spatial overlap of the individuals in a population.