Using mathematical modeling and field data, researchers at the mathematics department at Uppsala University in Sweden have found the basic rules that allow ants to build efficient and low-cost transport networks without discarding robustness. The study was published online on October 21, 2015 in an open-access article in the Royal Society journal Interface. The article is titled “Local Cost Minimization in Ant Transport Networks: From Small-Scale Data to Large-Scale Trade-Offs.” We live in a world that is deeply interconnected. Nowadays, transportation networks are fundamental to exchange resources and information from one point to another, from one person to another. Every day we travel on roads, we use electricity and water that are carried from distant plants, and we connect to the internet to read about facts happened on the other side of the world. Ideally, we would like to be able to travel between cities via the shortest route possible, but sometimes we have to follow long detours. Almost everyone in his life has experienced an electricity black out: sometimes the breakdown of a cable is enough to compromise the distribution of electricity in a whole suburb. However, we all know how expensive it is to install new cables at home, and we can imagine the cost of building a highway. Thus, network planners struggle to build transportation systems that are efficient and robust, but also not too expensive, trying to find the best compromise between competing design goals. Searching for inspiration, researchers have turned towards nature, observing the spontaneous formation process of natural transportation networks, from ant trails to leaf veins.
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