We can learn the secrets of smooth traffic flow by watching fire ants

Enlarge / Georgia Tech researchers color-coded fire ants with markers to better monitor their movements. (credit: Rob Felt/Georgia Tech)

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, consider taking a cue from the lowly ant. Fire ants may hold the secret to regulating traffic flow, whether it be cars packed onto a freeway during rush hour, shepherding crowds through narrow passageways, or coordinating swarms of robots.

“Ants that live in complex subterranean environments have to develop sophisticated social rules to avoid the bad things that can happen when you have a lot of individuals in a crowded environment,” said Georgia Tech physicist Daniel Goldman, who has been studying fire ants for years and is co-author of a new paper in Science detailing how they optimize their tunnel-digging efforts.

In a jam

Physicists have long been fascinated by traffic jams, especially so-called “phantom” traffic jams (aka, “jamitons”), where there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for the slowdown. It all comes down to density and the physics of self-organization. Traffic moving freely “flows” like a liquid. Traffic jammed to a standstill is akin to a solid.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs

Source: FS – All – Science – News
We can learn the secrets of smooth traffic flow by watching fire ants