Driving Lessons from Leafcutter Ants

In case you want to spend less time in traffic and arrive earlier at your destination, then you should seriously consider taking lessons from... leafcutter ants. As incredible as it may seem, this is neither a joke nor the plot of some science fiction movie but the results of a research published in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

According to a recent article on, a team of scientists found that ants leaving the colony automatically gave right-of-way to those returning with food. Apparently, when opposing streams of leafcutter ants meet in a narrow path, they instinctively alternate flows in what seems to be the most efficient way possible so that they avoid a traffic-jam through the forest.

"They never get stuck in traffic," said Audrey Dussutour, a University of Sydney entomologist. "We should use their rules. I've been working with ants for eight years, and have never seen a traffic jam — and I've tried."

It seems that humanity has been always fascinated by the ants' ability to organize colonial activities in patterns and in recent years, scientists have managed to turn ant traffic flows into algorithms applicable to data transmission and vehicular traffic.

More importantly, the findings of the research show that people should be less selfish in traffic to avoid jams. "One dominating factor in human traffic is egoism," said University of Zoln traffic flow theorist Andreas Schadschneider. "Drivers optimize their own travel time, without taking much care about others. This leads to phantom traffic jams which occur without any obvious reason. Ants, on the other hand, are not egoistic," he added.

Another entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign even speaks about the potential of driverless cars running on ant traffic algorithms. However, he fears a lot of time will pas until people will get used to the idea. Such an idea "assumes that humans could agree on an upper speed limit, which has never yet happened," he said.
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