In this experimental study, we show collective decision-making by mixed groups of cockroaches and socially integrated autonomous robots, leading to shared shelter selection. Individuals, natural or artificial, are perceived as equivalent, and the collective decision emerges from nonlinear feedbacks based on local interactions. Even when in the minority, robots can modulate the collective decision-making process and produce a global pattern not observed in their absence. These results demonstrate the possibility of using intelligent autonomous devices to study and control self-organized behavioral patterns in group-living animals.
Ha ha, silly cockroaches can’t tell that they’re following decisions made by a robot. I think I’ll point and laugh.
Collective behavior based on self-organization has been shown in group-living animals from insects to vertebrates.
More from the Times:
Many a mother has said, with a sigh, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?”
The answer, for cockroaches at least, may well be yes. Researchers using robotic roaches were able to persuade real cockroaches to do things that their instincts told them were not the best idea.
[…] Dr. Halloy and his colleagues worked with roaches because their societies are simple, egalitarian and democratic, with none of the social stratification seen in some other insect societies — no queen bees, no worker ants. “Cockroaches are not like that,” Dr. Halloy said. “They live all together.”
They also have weak eyes, which allowed the researchers to create a robotic roach that resembles a miniature golf cart more than an insect. In the roach world, however, looking right is not as important as smelling right, and the scientists doused the machines with eau de cockroach sex hormones.