News-Herald Follow Those Ants: Willoughby firm out to boost communications
by copying swarming methods used by insects. By: Dave Truman
You probably saw the future of the American military machine somewhere
last summer, if Mark Heiferling has anything to say about it.
wasn't at an air show or on the evening news.
at a picnic, or pushing crumbs across the kitchen floor.
is president of Bluetronix, Inc., a 2 1/2 year old Willoughby company
armed with a $750,000 Department of Defense grant to develop technology
that could revolutionize the way the military communicates.
technology is based on "Swarm Intelligence," the name
given to the extremely efficient behavior of social insects, such
as ants, after years of research.
colony of ants finds food by sending foragers out in random directions.
When one finds a food source, it returns to the colony, laying a
pheromone trail as it goes.
ants follow the trail, refreshing it with their own dose of pheromone.
The first ant may not have found the most direct route to the food,
but other foragers eventually will.
the most efficient trail becomes dominant because its pheromone
is refreshed most often, as ants trudge back and forth over the
the past few decades, researchers have worked to create mathmatical
models that replicate the behavior of social insects. The fruits
of their labor have been introduced with much success at such compnaies
as Southwest Airline, where cargo transfer rates were slashed by
as much as 80 percent at the busiest handling stations, according
to Harvard Business Review.
said the goal at Bluetronix is to apply swarm intelligence to communications
first for the military, then for business customers.
commercial opportunities I see are endless," he said.
because the benefits of a swarm-based communications system are
so vast. Like insects on which it is based, such a system would
be robust, flexible and self-organizing.
behavior is very simple. However, they do very complex things,"
explained Martin Roth, a Cornell University doctoral student who
worked for Bluetronix last summer.
ant colony does a whole lot more than any single ant. An ad hoc
(communications) network is like the colony."
hopes to create the software and hardware that will link every soldier,
tank and ship, with each representing an equal part of the network.
no central routing station, computers would help each transmission
find the path of least resistance through the network, eliminating
bottlenecks, Roth said. At the same time, if part of the network
is destroyed, communications would be quickly rerouted through the
new path of least resistance.
Figure 2: An Example of Distributed Sensor Network
know how hard it is to get rid of ants," Roth said.
looking to make a router the size of your fingertip that would have
these algorithms in it," Heiferling said.
it could be cheap enough and small enough to be in any kind of electronic
device, such as a soldier's watch, he said.
month, Bluetronix, which has five employees, will find out if a
bid for another $750,000 will be granted through Ohio Gov. Bob Taft's
Third Frontier Project.
the company get the funding, Heiferling plans to hire more researcher
to speed development along. He is also hoping to development relationships
with research departments of universities in Northeast Ohio.
papers on our products and technologies are available upon request.
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