What humans can learn about traffic from ants
Ants, as compared to humans, can load up a bridge with twice the capacity without slowing down.
Have you seen ants getting stuck in traffic jams? A new study highlights how these tiny creatures manage their movement, and it is as simple as practising selflessness and restraint.
Ants are one of the few creatures that move along a path in both directions. By tracking their movement on a bridge (5 mm, 10 mm, and 20 mm), the scientists found that they can hold from 400 to 25,600 ants.
Throughout the experiment scientists also collected data related to traffic flow, speed of the ants, and the number of collisions. The collected data shows that ants are immune to traffic jams.
How do ants manage traffic?
Ants manage traffic by self-imposed speed regulations. When the lane is moderately busy they speed up until they reach a maximum flow or capacity.
Similarly, when the trail is overcrowded, they restrain themselves to make the flow easy. They also changed their behaviour to minimise or avoid time-wasting collisions.
Why do we create traffic jams?
"Traffic jams are ubiquitous in human society where individuals are pursuing their own personal objective," the authors explain. "In contrast, ants share a common goal: the survival of the colony, thus they are expected to act cooperatively to optimise food return."
How are ants better than humans?
Ants, as compared to humans, can load up a bridge with twice the capacity without slowing down. When humans walk or drive in a similar situation, the flow of traffic slows down and reaches 40 per cent. Argentine ants, the species observed by the scientists could reach an occupancy of 80 per cent.
"The exact nature of the mechanisms used by Argentine ants to keep the traffic flowing in this study remains elusive, yet when density on the trail increases, ants seemed to be able to assess crowding locally, and adjusted their speed accordingly to avoid any interruption of traffic flow”, say scientists.
This is the first study that has highlighted how traffic jams are avoided at high speed by ants. We already know ants for their super-human strength, an armour-like skeleton, and two stomachs.
How can it help?
Self-driving cars are already on the roads. Ants might provide a solution for how we can manage traffic by following the methods that they use.