Ants are nifty creatures: they have a knack for teamwork, collective action, and unbelievable strength relative to their size. They can, as most people know, crawl to and in almost anywhere. All of these characteristics make ants an appealing model for robotics, and four researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne ran with the concept, creating “Tribots” in 2019. Tribots, which are, as the name suggests, T-shaped, origami-like robotic ants that can communicate, jump, work together towards a common goal, and even defend themselves (hypothetically) against predators. They can be assembled by folding stacks of thin, multi-material sheets. The sheets are dotted with proximity sensors that help the Tribot model their environment and other sensors to aid in communication. The model ant was the Odontomachus ant, which in addition to common ant characteristics mentioned above, leaps from leaf to leaf and snaps its jaws to escape danger and intimate predators. These defensive actions were appealing to researchers because they wanted the Tribot to be able to leap across obstacles and perform a variety of movements. The Tribots have five different ambulatory styles: vertical jumping, horizontal jumping, somersaulting to clear obstacles, walking on textured terrain, and crawling on flat surfaces. However, not every ant is the same. Tribots, like ants themselves, can be pieced together to fill different roles: the leader, the worker, or the explorer. Each bot can change its communication style and motility based on the role. Because of their agility, the researchers imagine these Tribots as potential tiny explorers to go into tight and remote environments, or as a tool for disaster relief. There are concerns about the fragility and durability of these Tribots; how durable are they when exposed to extreme elements or are tossed around in a dilapidated building? Seeing as the Tribots are relatively new, there is still ample time and opportunity to fine-tune and optimize their design.


Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, Ecological Modelling, Ecological Monitoring, Monitoring, Visual Technologies