Scientists look to ants to help reduce traffic jams

Apoorya Nagra has modelled how ants deal with busy roads — and it could help us build our own

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The Independent Online

If we all drove more like ants walk, there would be far fewer traffic jams, according to one scientist.

Studying why ants don’t get in their own versions of bad traffic could help us learn lessons to keep cars flowing, Apoorva Nagar and the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology told NPR.

There are three main reasons that ants don’t get into pile-ups, according to Nagar.

First, they don’t show off by driving past people because they don’t have egos. Secondly, they don’t mind a few small crashes – unless there’s a big pile-up, they just keep walking.

And third, ants become more uniform when their pathways get more crowded. They begin to run in more straight lines and stick with a steadier speed. They’re also less likely to make unexpected manoeuvres — the ant equivalent of jumping out into a lane without warning on a motorway.

In those ways, they walk more like a computer driving a car than a human driving one. And Nagar hopes to be able to explain that behaviour through a mathematical formula that will help regulate human’s motorways in the future.

He has studied the movement and developed a model that will predict how ants move in real life.

It’s unclear how much the formula will be able to help people driving motorways for humans. Cars, for example, are less able to withstand bumping into each other than ants are.