Retired Robots
vine underline

The Ants: A Community of Microrobots

The Ants are a community of cubic-inch microrobots at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. There are two main goals for this project. The first is to push the limits of microrobotics by integrating many sensors and actuators into a small package. The second is to form a structured robotic community from the interactions of many simple individuals. The inspiration behind this idea comes from nature -- the ant colony.

In order to accomplish these goals, the robots have been equipped with sensors and actuators designed with their natural counterparts in mind. Each robot has 17 sensors including; four light sensors, four IR (infrared) receivers, bump sensors, food sensors, and a tilt sensor. They communicate with each other using two IR emitters, one mounted on the front of the robot and one mounted on the top.

There are several levels of social behavior before reaching the goal of the ant colony. Right now, the robots can play Follow the Leader, Tag and Manhunt. Manhunt is similar to tag except there are two teams. The final game before the full-fledged Ant Farm is Capture the Flag.

There are many application for robotic communities, including explosive ordnance disposal, and Mars exploration. All the pictures on these pages are clickable to get a full-screen image.


  • It sure would be nice if I could click on the picture and find out what each part does...
    Ant Hardware Map
  • Exactly how much does one of these things weigh?
    Technical Specs
    Do you have any more pictures? And how did you build these things? And what do they look like when they move? And...
    More Info
  • What's the natural habitat for microrobots?
    The Ant Farm
  • Software

  • Ok, so now we know all about the hardware. But how do you make a small collection of parts intelligent?
    Antware (Software for Ants)
  • So you turn them on and they do their thing. How do you get them to act like a community of robots?
    The Evolution of Antware
  • Hmmm... Interesting. Any results?
    Social Behavior
  • More Information

  • Ya know, I think I read something about this. Has this project been in the papers?
    The Ants in the Media
  • I'm tired of reading all this stuff! Can I just look at the pictures?
    The Ant Photo Album
  • I want to read more! Are there any papers?
    Ant Papers
  • Related Research at the MIT AI Lab:

  • Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robots
  • Mars Rovers
  • Related Research Elsewhere:

    The Interaction Lab at Brandeis.

    Related Web Sites:

  • If you're interested in building your own robots, by far the best (only?) source for beginners is Prof. Anita Flynn's book, Mobile Robots: Inspiration to Implementation. If you want to buy some robot parts, try The Robot Store.
  • How cute can you get? Try this, a book called Antics, by Richard Davis.
  • Check out the on-line Ant Farm.
  • Click here for a look at some real, live, (Well, you can imagine) ant pictures.
  • For you budding myrmecologists (Ant Biologists) out there, here is an excellent article about Acorn Ants.

  • James McLurkin