A Happy New Year to you all.
I’ve been spending the last few weeks immersed in all things to do with Zoo animals…. Seals, Monkeys, Lions, you name it, I’ve seen it. And what I’ve discovered is nature is cool! No I mean really really cool! If you have a design problem, then chances are nature has already discovered the solution, from creating perfect structures to optimising computer science.
Take the humble ant, did you know some smarty pants (Marco Dorigo) used ants foraging behaviour as a bases for creating the first algorithm for searching optimal paths, I know amazing.
In the natural world, ants (initially) wander randomly, and upon finding food return to their colony while laying down pheromone trails. If other ants find such a path, they are likely not to keep travelling at random, but to instead follow the trail, returning and reinforcing it if they eventually find food.
Over time, however, the pheromone trail starts to evaporate, thus reducing its attractive strength. The more time it takes for an ant to travel down the path and back again, the more time the pheromones have to evaporate. A short path, by comparison, gets marched over more frequently, and thus the pheromone density becomes higher on shorter paths than longer ones. Pheromone evaporation also has the advantage of avoiding the creation of a short-term optimal solution. If there were no evaporation at all, the paths chosen by the first ants would tend to be excessively attractive to the following ones. In that case, the exploration of the solution space would be constrained. Positive feedback eventually leads to all the ants’ following a single path. The idea of the ant colony algorithm is to mimic this behaviour with “simulated ants” walking around the graph representing the problem to solve.
This algorithm has helped logistic companies all around the world to automate the improved efficiency of their delivery systems, which in turn saves millions of pounds, not to mention reducing pollution. So big respect the natural world, answers are out there waiting to be found.
Author: Marcus Bennett
Marcus is a Creative Director with over 15 years London experience. Client experiences includes BBC, Timberland and Coca Cola. Marcus is a member of the Typographic Circle and D&Ad. A passion for playing cricket, exploring the Devon coastline and collecting 1950s cigarette adverts.