Media interest in EPSRC-supported research on ants

Supplementary content information

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-supported research on ants could be used to guide robots in the future.

An international team of scientists, including researchers at the University of Edinburgh, have conducted a study which shows that ants’ navigational skills are more sophisticated than was previously thought.

They have revealed that the insects use the sun’s position and visual memories of their surroundings to guide them when they are walking backwards while carrying heavy loads of food.

The research, carried out on a colony of desert ants in Seville, Spain and published in the journal Current Biology, has generated national media interest, including articles on BBC News online and the Daily Mail, as well as international publications such as CBC News (Canada), India Today and the Libyan Express.

The research, which suggests ants can understand spatial relations in the external world, and not just relative to themselves, could inspire the development of novel computer algorithms to guide robots.

Scientists from the University of Lincoln, Australian National University and the French National Centre for Scientific Research were also involved in the study.

Professor Barbara Webb, from Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, said: “Ants have a relatively tiny brain, less than the size of a pinhead. Yet they can navigate successfully under many difficult conditions, including going backward.

“Understanding their behaviour gives us new insights into brain function, and has inspired us to build robot systems that mimic their functions.”

PN 03-17