Groups of interacting active particles, insects, or humans can form clusters that hinder the goals of the collective; therefore, development of robust strategies for control of such clogs is essential, particularly in confined environments. Our biological and robophysical excavation experiments, supported by computational and theoretical models, reveal that digging performance can be robustly optimized within the constraints of narrow tunnels by individual idleness and retreating. Tools from the study of dense particulate ensembles elucidate how idleness reduces the frequency of flow-stopping clogs and how selective retreating reduces cluster dissolution time for the rare clusters that still occur. Our results point to strategies by which dense active matter and swarms can become task capable without sophisticated sensing, planning, and global control of the collective.
This content will become publicly available on June 9, 2023
Toward Task Capable Active Matter: Learning to Avoid Clogging in Confined Collectives via Collisions
Social organisms which construct nests consisting of tunnels and chambers necessarily navigate confined and crowded conditions. Unlike low density collectives like bird flocks and insect swarms in which hydrodynamic and statistical phenomena dominate, the physics of glasses and supercooled fluids is important to understand clogging behaviors in high density collectives. Our previous work revealed that fire ants flowing in confined tunnels utilize diverse behaviors like unequal workload distributions, spontaneous direction reversals and limited interaction times to mitigate clogging and jamming and thus maintain functional flow; implementation of similar rules in a small robophysical swarm led to high performance through spontaneous dissolution of clogs and clusters. However, how the insects learn such behaviors and how we can develop “task capable” active matter in such regimes remains a challenge in part because interaction dynamics are dominated by local, potentially time-consuming collisions and no single agent can survey and guide the entire collective. Here, hypothesizing that effective flow and clog mitigation could be generated purely by collisional learning dynamics, we challenged small groups of robots to transport pellets through a narrow tunnel, and allowed them to modify their excavation probabilities over time. Robots began excavation with equal probabilities to excavate and without probability more »
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- Frontiers in Physics
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