April 1, 2008 Financial analysts use the concept of swarm intelligence to solve taxiway traffic problems at airports. While ants communicate via pheromones, computer simulations use that concept to allow virtual airplanes to communicate with each other. By following simple rules, they establish novel patterns of action that can increase the efficiency of operations.
Are you a worker, a drone, or a queen bee? Businesses are using models based on insect behavior to increase human production and work faster. And it's already started at the airport.
Do you ever feel like you work in an ant farm, or maybe like you're lost in the swarm? Now, financial analysts at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport are using an ant-based computer model to help you get to your destination faster!
"It's sort of like a colony of individuals trying to move through a maze with all of the other individuals present, arriving and departing and trying to do it as fast as they can," Douglas Lawson, Ph.D., a financial analysis manager at Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Texas, told Ivanhoe.
The software program uses swarm theory, or swarm intelligence -- the idea that a colony of ants works better than one alone. Each pilot acts like an ant searching for the best airport gate. "The pilot learns from his experience what's the best for him, and it turns out that that's the best solution for the airline," Dr. Lawson explains.
As a result, the "colony" of pilots always go to gates they can arrive and depart quickly. The program can even alert a pilot of plane back-ups before they happen. "We can anticipate that it's going to happen, so we'll have a gate available," Dr. Lawson says.
It's worked for planes. Now, they're using the same theory with passengers to improve ticketing and check-in. "It's basically planning by putting the virtual world out there and letting it happen, and then when we see what's going to happen, that's what we should plan to do," Dr. Lawson says…
…Getting you off the ground and to your destination with a little help from some six-legged friends. Dr. Lawson says the same principles of swarm theory can also be applied to other types of businesses.
HOW DO SWARMS OPERATE? How do ants find the route to a food source? All each ant does is to follow the strongest pheromone (chemical) trail left by other ants. If this process is repeated frequently enough, they will find the best route through trial and error. If ants become isolated from their group, they end up running around in circles, following their own pheromone trail until they die of exhaustion. This behavior, called "swarm intelligence" describes how complex behavior can arise from a large number of individuals each following very simple rules. Bees use swarm intelligence to cluster and disperse about the hive.
POTENTIAL SWARM SOLUTIONS: Scientists have adapted this approach to develop software for robots that mimics the organized behavior of insects: using simple rules to coordinate complex behavior among many robots. The concept is that swarms of robots could work together to perform minesweeping and search and rescue missions, with very little need for human direction. For example, if one robot in a swarm makes a discovery, the rest of the swarm unites around the discovery and begins the task it was programmed to achieve. Robotic swarms might one day be used to explore the surface of Mars.
The American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.