back to article Look to insects if you want to build tiny AI robots that are actually smart

Roboticists could learn a thing or two from insects if they're looking to build tiny AI machines capable of moving, planning, and cooperating with one another. The six-legged creatures are the largest and most diverse multi-cellular organisms on Earth. They have evolved to live in all sorts of environments and exhibit …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Memo to developers:

    Emulating the mayfly is only useful if you want the robot to survive for a day.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Memo to developers:

      Their order name, Ephemeroptera, comes from the seemingly ephemeral nature of their existence.

      However, this does not take into account the fact that, prior to their emergence into the air, they have been living for months as water nyads (nymphs), gaily gamboling beneath the surface of streams and ponds, feeding, ever feeding, waiting for the day when they make their way through the surface film, wiggle free of their juvenile, aquatic bonds, gracefully take flight ... and finally get laid, lay their eggs and die.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Memo to developers:

        Yes of course, it all depends on which bit of the life cycle you want to emulate :)

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Memo to developers:

        AFAICS this isn't what the roboticists are interested in. They seem more interested in the apparently intelligent behaviour that arises from the combined activities of social insects. The units might be cheap but to achieve the results you'd need a lot of them, all doomed to end up as yet more electronic landfill.

    2. Tom 7

      Re: Memo to developers:

      Saw my first horsefly of the year today - lifetime maybe 3 seconds.

  2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Sounds very much like the stuff Noel Sharkey was going on about 20 years ago. Emergent behaviour in swarms of drones and so on. Will it be less of a dead end this time?

    1. LionelB Silver badge

      Just thinking the same. How is any of this remotely new? My mate did his PhD on "swarm intelligence" in robotics back in '98.

  3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Asimov got there first, a short story where USR addressed the growing public opposition to robots by developing minimalist insect robots that had such a small set of functions that the Three Laws could be trimmed down considerably, allowing for smaller and cheaper robots. Can't remember the name, and can't track it down.

    1. LionelB Silver badge

      Reminds me - anyone watch the Brazilian surveillance-society sci-fi series Omniscient? Weirdly stylish, no sign of a second series, unfortunately.

  4. DrBobK

    The largest multicellular organisms on earth.

    "The six-legged creatures are the largest and most diverse multi-cellular organisms on Earth."

    I, for one, welcome our new (old) insect overlords.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: The largest multicellular organisms on earth.

      Five million years ago insects only had three legs as you can see in Quatermass and the Pit, documenting the arrival of Martian insects on the Earth.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: The largest multicellular organisms on earth.

        Quatermass made a variety of errors - not least when stating that the six-pointed engraving on the alien ship bulkead was a 'pentagram' (a five sided or five lobed figure).

    2. teknopaul

      Re: The largest multicellular organisms on earth.

      Largest? I think nelly the elephant would have some to say about that.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The largest multicellular organisms on earth.

      "The six-legged creatures are the largest and most diverse multi-cellular organisms on Earth."

      If you're counting the entire colony as a single organism it has a lot more than six legs. If you're counting the individual colony members as organisms then the size is very strictly limited to the maximum that an insect's respiratory system can support.

  5. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "decision making already in production in nature"?

    Once I had a bumblebee nest in my wood shed. they would fly in and out through a roughly 50 mm knot hole at the bottom of the door. With the door wide open, bees would hover around inside and outside the shed, unable to find their way in or out. That's the result of early imprinting of a template which is subsequently rigorously applied to the 'decision' process. It's not comparable to even minimal human intelligence (which is adaptable to the unexpected) but does seem rather similar to the way much 'AI' works at present. Indeed a paper I picked up a while back suggested that bees (specifically) learn by drawing a tendency out of random choices on the basis of success rate - up to a certain point where the payoff is sufficient, and then the pattern gets locked down and behaviours ceases to be adaptable.

    We should be glad that most humans don't operate on that basis.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: We should be glad that most humans don't operate on that basis.

      s/don't operate/don't always operate/


      1. Gordon 10

        Re: We should be glad that most humans don't operate on that basis.

        s/don't operate/occasionally don't operate/

        I think there is much evidence to suggest many humans suffer from permanent Template locking. I cite 99% of TwitBook as my evidence base.

        Ditto Daily Heil readers.

  6. elsergiovolador Silver badge


    How do you know insects are smart?

    Because they don't have a TikTok.

  7. Mike 137 Silver badge


    I remember annoying almost everyone at an '80s AI & robotics conference by saying:

    "when you can build an automaton that can do everything a bumble bee can do, to the same size and with the the same enrgy demands and operational range, you'll have accomplished something worth writing up".

    They weren't happy with that.

  8. yetanotheraoc Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I foresee some issues

    1. All the robots want to be named Buzz, which leads to massive robot confusion.

    2. The batteries keep running down when they do that little dance describing what direction and how far away the target is.

    3. Insects are aggressive and territorial, so training the "AI" keeps resulting in aggressive and territorial robots.

    4. Murder hornets hate robot insects just as much as they hate regular insects.

    5. Paris wants to be the queen of the robot insects. ==>

  9. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Thank you Katyanna!

    Anyone coding in this environment, or a related one, needs to download and read the published paper, It's an excellent description and reading it will help everyone think about what they are doing and how it might (or might not) work. Understanding the environment and the way things work is a huge help when you are trying to get things working and coding. The paper is very helpful - that's a feature of so many published papers in every field you might have to work in... for example, this view is very helpful whether you like it or not (LOL): Mathematicians stand on each others' shoulders and computer scientists stand on each others' toes. - Richard Hamming

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