How groups of cooperative foragers can achieve efficient and robust collective foraging is of interest both to biologists studying social insects and engineers designing swarm robotics systems. Of particular interest are distance-quality trade-offs and swarm-size-dependent foraging strategies. Here, we present a collective foraging system based on virtual pheromones, tested in simulation and in swarms of up to 200 physical robots. Our individual agent controllers are highly simplified, as they are based on binary pheromone sensors. Despite being simple, our individual controllers are able to reproduce classical foraging experiments conducted with more capable real ants that sense pheromone concentration and follow its gradient. One key feature of our controllers is a control parameter which balances the trade-off between distance selectivity and quality selectivity of individual foragers. We construct an optimal foraging theory model that accounts for distance and quality of resources, as well as overcrowding, and predicts a swarm-size-dependent strategy. We test swarms implementing our controllers against our optimality model and find that, for moderate swarm sizes, they can be parameterised to approximate the optimal foraging strategy. This study demonstrates the sufficiency of simple individual agent rules to generate sophisticated collective foraging behaviour.
Sophisticated Collective Foraging with Minimalist Agents: A Swarm Robotics Test
M.S. Talamali, T. Bose, M. Haire, X. Xu, J.A.R. Marshall, A. Reina. Sophisticated Collective Foraging with Minimalist Agents: A Swarm Robotics Test. Swarm Intelligence 14(1):in press, 2020.