This Walking Robot Ditches GPS to Navigate Like a Desert Ant

Jennifer DeLaOsa
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CNRS and Aix-Marseille University (AMU) researchers have created a new robot named AntBot.

As its name suggests, the design draws inspiration from ants, particularly desert ants, who are expert little navigators without using the GPS systems both man and machine rely on. So, AntBot followed suit, with CNRS claiming it’s the “first walking robot that can explore its environment randomly and go home automatically, without GPS or mapping.”

Ants use polarized light and ultraviolet radiation to locate themselves in space. A great example lies in the Cataglyphis desert ants, the AntBot’s muse. Due to high temperatures, pheromones would quickly burn up, but yet the critters can travel for hundreds of meters to find food, and return back to the nest in a straight line. And this is a feat accomplished without getting lost.

Two pieces of information make this possible: “the heading measured using a sort of ‘celestial compass’ to orient themselves using the sky's polarized light, and the distance covered, measured by simply counting steps and incorporating the rate of movement relative to the sun measured optically by their eyes,” according to CNRS.

Translating this skill over to the AntBot, the robot determines its heading using polarized light with an optical compass. For distance covered, an optical movement sensor provides measurements as it points toward the sun. Using this technique, the 2.3-kg robot engaged all six of its feet to explore and return to its base with 1-cm precision, covering a total distance of 14 meters.

The team believes this work can help autonomous vehicles and robotics employ new navigation strategies when GPS isn’t available.

The article, “AntBot: A six-legged walking robot able to home like desert ants in outdoor environments,” was published in Science Robotics.

You can witness the AntBot walk around in the French-language video below.

This Walking Robot Ditches GPS to Navigate Like a Desert Ant