Testing the limits of pheromone stigmergy in high-density robot swarms.
ABSTRACT: Area coverage and collective exploration are key challenges for swarm robotics. Previous research in this field has drawn inspiration from ant colonies, with real, or more commonly virtual, pheromones deposited into a shared environment to coordinate behaviour through stigmergy. Repellent pheromones can facilitate rapid dispersal of robotic agents, yet this has been demonstrated only for relatively small swarm sizes (N < 30). Here, we report findings from swarms of real robots (Kilobots) an order of magnitude larger (N > 300) and from realistic simulation experiments up to N = 400. We identify limitations to stigmergy in a spatially constrained, high-density environment-a free but bounded two-dimensional workspace-using repellent binary pheromone. At larger N and higher densities, a simple stigmergic avoidance algorithm becomes first no better, then inferior to, the area coverage of non-interacting random walkers. Thus, the assumption of robustness and scalability for such approaches may need to be re-examined when they are working at a high density caused by ever-increasing swarm sizes. Instead, subcellular biology, and diffusive processes, may prove a better source of inspiration at large N in high agent density environments.
Project description:Twitching motility is a mode of surface translocation that is mediated by the extension and retraction of type IV pili and which, depending on the conditions, enables migration of individual cells or can manifest as a complex multicellular collective behavior that leads to biofilm expansion. When twitching motility occurs at the interface of an abiotic surface and solidified nutrient media, it can lead to the emergence of extensive self-organized patterns of interconnected trails that form as a consequence of the actively migrating bacteria forging a furrow network in the substratum beneath the expanding biofilm. These furrows appear to direct bacterial movements much in the same way that roads and footpaths coordinate motor vehicle and human pedestrian traffic. Self-organizing systems such as these can be accounted for by the concept of stigmergy which describes self-organization that emerges through indirect communication via persistent signals within the environment. Many bacterial communities are able to actively migrate across solid and semi-solid surfaces through complex multicellular collective behaviors such as twitching motility and flagella-mediated swarming motility. Here, we have examined the potential of exploiting the stigmergic behavior of furrow-mediated trail following as a means of controlling bacterial biofilm expansion along abiotic surfaces. We found that incorporation of a series of parallel micro-fabricated furrows significantly impeded active biofilm expansion by <i>Pseudomonas aeruginosa</i> and <i>Proteus vulgaris</i>. We observed that in both cases bacterial movements tended to be directed along the furrows. We also observed that narrow furrows were most effective at disrupting biofilm expansion as they impeded the ability of cells to self-organize into multicellular assemblies required for escape from the furrows and migration into new territory. Our results suggest that the implementation of micro-fabricated furrows that exploit stigmergy may be a novel approach to impeding active biofilm expansion across abiotic surfaces such as those used in medical and industrial settings.
Project description:Collective animal behavior studies have led the way in developing models that account for a large number of individuals, but mostly have considered situations in which alignment and attraction play a key role, such as in schooling and flocking. By quantifying how animals react to one another's presence, when interaction is via conspecific avoidance rather than alignment or attraction, we present a mechanistic insight that enables us to link individual behavior and space use patterns. As animals respond to both current and past positions of their neighbors, the assumption that the relative location of individuals is statistically and history independent is not tenable, underscoring the limitations of traditional space use studies. We move beyond that assumption by constructing a framework to analyze spatial segregation of mobile animals when neighbor proximity may elicit a retreat, and by linking conspecific encounter rate to history-dependent avoidance behavior. Our approach rests on the knowledge that animals communicate by modifying the environment in which they live, providing a method to analyze social cohesion as stigmergy, a form of mediated animal-animal interaction. By considering a population of animals that mark the terrain as they move, we predict how the spatiotemporal patterns that emerge depend on the degree of stigmergy of the interaction processes. We find in particular that nonlocal decision rules may generate a nonmonotonic dependence of the animal encounter rate as a function of the tendency to retreat from locations recently visited by other conspecifics, which has fundamental implications for epidemic disease spread and animal sociality.
Project description:Although movement ecology has leveraged models of home range formation to explore the effects of spatial heterogeneity and social cues on movement behavior, disease ecology has yet to integrate these potential drivers and mechanisms of contact behavior into a generalizable disease modeling framework. Here we ask how dynamic territory formation and maintenance might contribute to disease dynamics in a territorial, solitary predator for an indirectly transmitted pathogen. We developed a mechanistic individual-based model where stigmergy-the deposition of signals into the environment (e.g., scent marking, scraping)-dictates local movement choices and long-term territory formation, but also the risk of pathogen transmission. Based on a variable importance analysis, the length of the infectious period was the single most important variable in predicting outbreak success, maximum prevalence, and outbreak duration. Host density and rate of pathogen decay were also key predictors. We found that territoriality best reduced maximum prevalence in conditions where we would otherwise expect outbreaks to be most successful: slower recovery rates (i.e., longer infectious periods) and higher conspecific densities. However, for slower pathogen decay rates, stigmergy-driven movement increased outbreak durations relative to random movement simulations. Our findings therefore support a limited version of the "territoriality benefits" hypothesis-where reduced home range overlap leads to reduced opportunities for pathogen transmission, but with the caveat that reduction in outbreak severity may increase the likelihood of pathogen persistence. For longer infectious periods and higher host densities, key trade-offs emerged between the strength of pathogen load, the strength of the stigmergy cue, and the rate at which those two quantities decayed; this finding raises interesting questions about the evolutionary nature of these competing processes and the role of possible feedbacks between parasitism and territoriality. This work also highlights the importance of considering social cues as part of the movement landscape in order to better understand the consequences of individual behaviors on population level outcomes.
Project description:Bacterial biofilms are complex multicellular communities that are often associated with the emergence of large-scale patterns across the biofilm. How bacteria self-organize to form these structured communities is an area of active research. We have recently determined that the emergence of an intricate network of trails that forms during the twitching motility mediated expansion of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms is attributed to an interconnected furrow system that is forged in the solidified nutrient media by aggregates of cells as they migrate across the media surface. This network acts as a means for self-organization of collective behavior during biofilm expansion as the cells following these vanguard aggregates were preferentially confined within the furrow network resulting in the formation of an intricate network of trails of cells. Here we further explore the process by which the intricate network of trails emerges. We have determined that the formation of the intricate network of furrows is associated with significant remodeling of the sub-stratum underlying the biofilm. The concept of stigmergy has been used to describe a variety of self-organization processes observed in higher organisms and abiotic systems that involve indirect communication via persistent cues in the environment left by individuals that influence the behavior of other individuals of the group at a later point in time. We propose that the concept of stigmergy can also be applied to describe self-organization of bacterial biofilms and can be included in the repertoire of systems used by bacteria to coordinate complex multicellular behaviors.
Project description:Surface translocation by the soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus is a complex multicellular phenomenon that entails two motility systems. However, the mechanisms by which the activities of individual cells are coordinated to manifest this collective behaviour are currently unclear. Here we have developed a novel assay that enables detailed microscopic examination of M. xanthus motility at the interstitial interface between solidified nutrient medium and a glass coverslip. Under these conditions, M. xanthus motility is characterised by extensive micro-morphological patterning that is considerably more elaborate than occurs at an air-surface interface. We have found that during motility on solidified nutrient medium, M. xanthus forges an interconnected furrow network that is lined with an extracellular matrix comprised of exopolysaccharides, extracellular lipids, membrane vesicles and an unidentified slime. Our observations have revealed that M. xanthus motility on solidified nutrient medium is a stigmergic phenomenon in which multi-cellular collective behaviours are co-ordinated through trail-following that is guided by physical furrows and extracellular matrix materials.
Project description:We model the presence of rare Antarctic blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) in relation to the swarm characteristics of their main prey species, Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). A combination of visual observations and recent advances in passive acoustic technology were used to locate Antarctic blue whales, whilst simultaneously using active underwater acoustics to characterise the distribution, size, depth, composition and density of krill swarms. Krill swarm characteristics and blue whale presence were examined at a range of spatiotemporal scales to investigate sub meso-scale (i.e., <100?km) foraging behaviour. Results suggest that at all scales, Antarctic blue whales are more likely to be detected within the vicinity of krill swarms with a higher density of krill, those found shallower in the water column, and those of greater vertical height. These findings support hypotheses that as lunge-feeders of extreme size, Antarctic blue whales target shallow, dense krill swarms to maximise their energy intake. As both Antarctic krill and blue whales play a key role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, the nature of their predator-prey dynamics is an important consideration, not only for the recovery of this endangered species in a changing environment, but for the future management of Antarctic krill fisheries.
Project description:Flagellated bacteria can swim within a thin film of fluid that coats a solid surface, such as agar; this is a means for colony expansion known as swarming. We found that micrometer-sized bubbles make excellent tracers for the motion of this fluid. The microbubbles form explosively when small aliquots of an aqueous suspension of droplets of a water-insoluble surfactant (Span 83) are placed on the agar ahead of a swarm, as the water is absorbed by the agar and the droplets are exposed to air. Using these bubbles, we discovered an extensive stream (or river) of swarm fluid flowing clockwise along the leading edge of an Escherichia coli swarm, at speeds of order 10 ?m/s, about three times faster than the swarm expansion. The flow is generated by the action of counterclockwise rotating flagella of cells stuck to the substratum, which drives fluid clockwise around isolated cells (when viewed from above), counterclockwise between cells in dilute arrays, and clockwise in front of cells at the swarm edge. The river provides an avenue for long-range communication in the swarming colony, ideally suited for secretory vesicles that diffuse poorly. These findings broaden our understanding of swarming dynamics and have implications for the engineering of bacterial-driven microfluidic devices.
Project description:In this work, a swarm behaviour for multi-rotor Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) deployment will be presented. The main contribution of this behaviour is the use of a virtual device for quantitative sematectonic stigmergy providing more adaptable behaviours in complex environments. It is a fault tolerant highly robust behaviour that does not require prior information of the area to be covered, or to assume the existence of any kind of information signals (GPS, mobile communication networks …), taking into account the specific features of UAVs. This behaviour will be oriented towards emergency tasks. Their main goal will be to cover an area of the environment for later creating an ad-hoc communication network, that can be used to establish communications inside this zone. Although there are several papers on robotic deployment it is more difficult to find applications with UAV systems, mainly because of the existence of various problems that must be overcome including limitations in available sensory and on-board processing capabilities and low flight endurance. In addition, those behaviours designed for UAVs often have significant limitations on their ability to be used in real tasks, because they assume specific features, not easily applicable in a general way. Firstly, in this article the characteristics of the simulation environment will be presented. Secondly, a microscopic model for deployment and creation of ad-hoc networks, that implicitly includes stigmergy features, will be shown. Then, the overall swarm behaviour will be modeled, providing a macroscopic model of this behaviour. This model can accurately predict the number of agents needed to cover an area as well as the time required for the deployment process. An experimental analysis through simulation will be carried out in order to verify our models. In this analysis the influence of both the complexity of the environment and the stigmergy system will be discussed, given the data obtained in the simulation. In addition, the macroscopic and microscopic models will be compared verifying the number of predicted individuals for each state regarding the simulation.
Project description:Controlling active colloidal particle swarms could enable useful microscopic functions in emerging applications at the interface of nanotechnology and robotics. Here, we present a computational study of controlling self-propelled colloidal particle propulsion speeds to cooperatively capture and transport cargo particles, which otherwise produce random dispersions. By sensing swarm and cargo coordinates, each particle's speed is actuated according to a control policy based on multiagent assignment and path planning strategies that navigate stochastic particle trajectories to targets around cargo. Colloidal swarms are shown to dynamically cage cargo at their center via inward radial forces while simultaneously translating via directional forces. Speed, power, and efficiency of swarm tasks display emergent coupled dependences on swarm size and pair interactions and approach asymptotic limits indicating near-optimal performance. This scheme exploits unique interactions and stochastic dynamics in colloidal swarms to capture and transport microscopic cargo in a robust, stable, error-tolerant, and dynamic manner.
Project description:We propose a novel, information-theoretic, characterisation of cascades within the spatiotemporal dynamics of swarms, explicitly measuring the extent of collective communications. This is complemented by dynamic tracing of collective memory, as another element of distributed computation, which represents capacity for swarm coherence. The approach deals with both global and local information dynamics, ultimately discovering diverse ways in which an individual's spatial position is related to its information processing role. It also allows us to contrast cascades that propagate conflicting information with waves of coordinated motion. Most importantly, our simulation experiments provide the first direct information-theoretic evidence (verified in a simulation setting) for the long-held conjecture that the information cascades occur in waves rippling through the swarm. Our experiments also exemplify how features of swarm dynamics, such as cascades' wavefronts, can be filtered and predicted. We observed that maximal information transfer tends to follow the stage with maximal collective memory, and principles like this may be generalised in wider biological and social contexts.