COSΦ: Novel Artificial Pheromone System for Robotic Swarms

Using pheromone-based communication, simple lifeforms like bees, ants, and termites form communities that exhibit complex and intelligent behavior. Until now, researchers specializing in swarm robotic applications have been unable to replicate all the aspects of pheromone communication that occur in the natural world. Scientists have employed both chemical means, using alcohol to simulate pheromones, and physical techniques, using light and sound, to try to accurately replicate pheromone-based communication, but none of these approaches have been completely effective. Specialists from the University of Lincoln's School of Computer Science have now produced a novel artificial pheromone system that is reliable, accurate and only uses 'off-the-shelf' components. Using an LCD screen and a low-cost USB camera, the system allows users to simulate several pheromones – displayed in the form of visual trails on the screen – and to change their strength to allow for controllable experiments. The visual 'pheromone' image on the screen is sensed by two light sensors on the swarm robots, which replicate ants' antennas. The new system is called CosΦ (Communication System via Pheromone) and consists of a low-cost open-hardware micro robot and an open-source localization system, which tracks the robots' trajectories and releases the artificial pheromone.