First, rats taught us how to build our cities (they prefer grids like Manhattan to jumbles like New Orleans), and now ants are pitching in to solve our traffic ills.As it turns out, the insects instinctively know how to avoid SIG alerts.
The shocking solution? Faster ants never pass. Rather, they'll gather behind a slow-moving ant, in the same way drivers might line up behind a slow-moving truck.
"One dominating factor in human traffic is egoism," says traffic flow theorist Andreas Shadschneider. "Drivers optimize their own travel time, without taking much care about others. This leads to phantom traffic jams which occur without any obvious reason. Ants, on the other hand, are not egoistic."
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Our six-legged friends also use pheromone trails and antennae contact to maintain a perfectly efficient flow--in fact, it's believed that patience and cooperation result in average trip times that are half what they would be if the ants acted like selfish LA drivers.
And now two new projects, one in Dubai and the other at Heathrow Airport in London, are attempting to apply these ideas in the form of Personal Rapid Transit--individual pod cars travelling on concrete tracks, with a central computer deciding the most optimal way to move and route each car. But might we ever hope to move so efficiently in Los Angeles? Scientists have recently turned ant traffic flows into algorithms that could be applied to our snarled freeways--but first we'd have to give up control of our beloved Hummers and Prii.--Dan Caroselli