Researchers have discovered that when army ants build bridges using their bodies, they can dismantle and rebuild their tiny structures with a few seconds, allowing them to span incredible distances.
This behaviour allows them to create shortcuts and cross large gaps across the Central and South American rainforests they call home.
Prior to this study, scientists had assumed ant bridges were static structures that could not change to suit the needs of the colony.
This discovery could have huge applications across engineering, deep-sea exploration and disaster relief.
Co-lead author Dr Christopher Reid, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney, says that by analysing how ants optimise utility, researchers could create simple control algorithms to allow swarms of robots to act in similar ways to an ant colony.
“Artificial systems made of independent robots operating via the same principles as the army ants could build large-scale structures as needed,” Dr Reid said.
“Such swarms could accomplish remarkable tasks, such as creating bridges to navigate complex terrain, plugs to repair structural breaches, or supports to stabilise a failing structure.”
“These systems could also enable robots to operate in complex unpredictable settings, such as in natural disaster areas, where human presence is dangerous or problematic."