Digital Pheromones

Date: 2007


Ants as a way to prevent traffic jams! Sometimes nature provides astounding solutions to the problems of everyday life, which is why scientists have repeatedly draw upon findings in the field of biology and applied them to technology. This process even has a name: bionics.

In Digital Pheromones, a communication mechanism used by ants inspired scientists to develop a means of providing urban motorists with updated navigation information.

Ants in search of food leave behind scents called pheromones that show other ants the shortest path to the food source. This innovative new system works similarly: Each vehicle, as it proceeds along its route, leaves behind so-called digital pheromones on a virtual street map so that each street can be rated according to the current average speed of the cars using it: from green for traffic flowing at the speed limit to red for a traffic jam. A continuously updated traffic situation report can thus be made available, and motorists can constantly refer to it to select the quickest route. In this way, traffic can be distributed in a way that takes better advantage of the full capacity of the network of streets.

The virtual street map can be administered centrally on one server or in decentralized fashion among the motorists themselves. Previous concepts have emphasized the principle of external control via an elaborate central coordinating authority. The way of the future, though, seems to be one that’s analogous to nature’s own way: the principle of self-administration.

Digital Pheromones was developed by Siemens Corporate Technology in cooperation with the Johannes Kepler University Linz (Department of Business Computing – Software Engineering, Department of Pervasive Computing) and the Ars Electronica Futurelab.


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