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Biomimetics: Teaching robots to think like swarms of bacteria

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Pseudomonas swarming/Julio 514

From “Smart Swarms of Bacteria Inspire Robotics: Adaptable Decision-Making Found in Bacteria Communities” (ScienceDaily, Nov. 17, 2011), we learn:

Bacteria aren’t the only organisms that travel in swarms, says Shklarsh. Fish, bees, and birds also exhibit collective navigation. But as simple organisms with less sophisticated receptors, bacteria are not as well-equipped to deal with large amounts of information or “noise” in the complex environments they navigate, such as human tissue. The assumption has been, she says, that bacteria would be at a disadvantage compared to other swarming organisms.

Actually, they do better. Unlike animal swarms that can be led by a few individuals in the wrong direction,

“bacteria can adjust their interactions with their peers,” Prof. Ben-Jacob says. “When an individual bacterium finds a more beneficial path, it pays less attention to the signals from the other cells. But at other times, upon encountering challenging paths, the individual cell will increase its interaction with the other cells and learn from its peers. Since each of the cells adopts the same strategy, the group as a whole is able to find an optimal trajectory in an extremely complex terrain.”

It probably helps not to have a strong sense of self. The hope is to teach this skill to robots.

The most remarkable strategy of all is, of course, the amoeba slime mold, where amoebas simply cluster together as if they were a tiny multicellular animal and even “walk” around..

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