Chess, Ants and Jellyfish

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Below are two videos where nature is used to gain insight into problems. Biomimicry is a method where you look to nature and natural systems for inspiration. Many innovations have been created using biomimicry, which is a process to spark innovation and creative ideas.

The idea to base a flying robot on an animal that cannot fly is an innovative idea. Previously aerial robots have been engineered to mirror movement made by birds and flying insects such as butterflies and bees. Yet it has proven  difficult to mimic what nature has spent millions of years of evolution  perfecting and an innovative solution  has been to use the pulsating movements of a jellyfish as inspiration.The innovative idea is to research flying strategies that have not yet by explored by evolution. The flying jellyfish flaps four wings that are arranged  like petals on a flower. Jellyfish have  limited movements and they swim by opening and closing their bell – like opening an umbrella.

The flying jellyfish robot could in the future help to monitor air pollution by providing a detailed picture of urban environment. Small-scale winged aircraft that  does not  need any sort of control or feedback system to be stable,and that can hover, ascend and fly in a particular direction can collect data and also be used for surveillance.

The  video below shows a way of gaining understanding into a chess problem called the knight’s tour problem. Put all chess pieces except the knight away and place the knight on one of the 64 squares of a chess board. The problem is to  make 63 legal moves so that you visit every square on the chess board exactly once.  A knight can move two squares in a straight line, followed by a ninety degree turn and a move of one further square.

A closed tour is when you can make the 63 moves and end up on a square from which you can move back to the original square with the 64th legal move. The closed tours have attracted the attention of mathematicians who wants to find out how many closed tours there are. There may be around 26 trillion closed tours. The other tours, open tours,  are more common, no one knows the exact number of these tours.

So if you are looking for a new approach to the knight’s tour problem, where would you search for inspiration?

By using biomimicry as a method, the idea to study the behaviour of ants popped up. Ants use a special pattern when they are searching for food and this pattern,  or algorithm,  can be used to explore  many types of problems such as the Travelling Salesman Problem and Vehicle Routing Problems. Go here to read more about the theory behind using ant colony optimisation algorithm to solve the problem.

Previously a genetic algorithm based upon the work of Darwin, natural evolution, was used. This approach relied upon the idea that those who perform well on the problem of a stimulated population survive. The approach to use ants is based upon the simulation of a population of ants where the ants are given the task to find a solution to a problem. A pheromone trail is laid when each ant is trying to solve the task. Ants use  this smelly substance to communicate and successful ants lay more pheromone trails. A successful ant is an ant who solves the problem better.

By simulating this procedure millions of times, the  pheromone trails with good solutions increase and poorer solutions slowly evaporate, which is  programmed in the simulated algorithm. Exactly why this approach is successful may at the  moment be unclear, yet the approach suggests that biomimicry can provide insights and innovative solutions in a range of areas.

Photo “Jellyfish” by papaija2008

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