#189: Formic figuring

Ants are remarkable creatures in that they exhibit certain cooperative behaviours which ’emerge,’ based on the interactions of some very simple internal rules. Some can, for example, count the numbers of steps they take, in each direction on some irregular route, in order to compute the distance and bearing of the most direct path home.

Certain species of ant, it seems, are able to measure themselves against the size of holes in the path of an army and pick appropriately-sized individuals who can then use their legs to plug the potholes.

Kym_Parry_ant424.jpg

This behaviour might actually be exploited commercially.

If you have a natural product, as the sponge fishing industry does, it’s often quite hard to gauge the quality objectively (certainly, doing this by imaging techniques is fraught with problems). Given the prices which individual sponges fetch ( >$30 each) , this is a significant issue.

Today’s invention is a pore size measurement technique. Allow an army of ants of the pore-filling variety to march across the surfaces of the product, leaving those ants with legspans equal to pore sizes in the (sponges’) surfaces. These creatures can then be dislodged and measured (either individually or by a statistical analyisis of post mortem leg length.)

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