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Ant Traffic

April 2, 2009

Unlike drivers, ants never get stuck in traffic jams.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Why ants make the best drivers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Drivers who are tired of getting stuck in traffic jams might want to take a lesson from ants. Andreas Schadschneider is a professor at Cologne University ‘s Institute for Theoretical Physics in Germany. He and his colleagues videotaped ants marching from one nest to another and analyzed their movement along the trail.

SCHADSCHNEIDER (Cologne University):
So the first very surprising observation was that there is no overtaking on the ant trails. So if a faster ant catches up with a slower ant, it will not overtake but move at the same velocity at a very short distance behind this preceding ant.

HIRSHON:
The ants thus form large platoons that march in step. Schadschneider says cooperating like this allows the ants to maintain speed, even when the trail gets crowded. He says new technology could help cars do the same thing. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.