Scientists claim to have developed the first walking robot that can explore its environment and find its way home without GPS or mapping, opening new avenues for the navigation of autonomous vehicles.
Researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) took inspiration from desert ants, which are extraordinary solitary navigators, to design the AntBot.
Ants use polarised light and ultraviolet radiation to locate themselves in space. Cataglyphis desert ants in particular can cover several hundreds of metres in direct sunlight in the desert to find food, then return in a straight line to the nest, without getting lost.
AntBot copies the desert ants' exceptional navigation capacities, allowing it to explore without using Global Positioning System (GPS), researchers said.
It is equipped with an optical compass used to determine its heading by means of polarised light, and by an optical movement sensor directed to the Sun to measure the distance covered.
Armed with this information, AntBot has been shown to be able, like the desert ants, to explore its environment and to return on its own to its base, with precision of up to one centimetre after having covered a total distance of 14 metres.
Weighing only 2.3 kg, this robot has six feet for increased mobility, allowing it to move in complex environments, precisely where deploying wheeled robots and drones can be complicated.
The optical compass developed by the scientists is sensitive to the sky's polarised ultraviolet radiation. Using this "celestial compass," AntBot measures its heading with precision by clear or cloudy weather.
AntBot brings new understanding on how desert ants navigate, by testing several models that biologists have imagined to mimic this animal, researchers said.
Before exploring potential applications in aerial robotics or in the automobile industry, for example, progress must be made, for instance in how to operate this robot at night or over longer distances.