There are many beautiful things in nature, but few things are quite as wondrous as a swarm of animals moving in unison. That these hives of activity are coordinating without any kind of ‘leader’ has led to the study of such patterns in the hope of deriving lessons for us as human beings.
In a medical context, it’s also underpinning attempts to provide a new generation of treatments for a variety of diseases.
The nanomedicine operations at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory are one such example. They’re developing hive like nanoparticles that crawl through the body on the hunt for cancer cells they can tackle.
The aim is for this swarm of nanoparticles to derive the same kind of collective intelligence that swarms in nature seem to possess, but this time with that intelligence used to hunt down tumours and so on.
The belief is that if they can obtain this level of collective intelligence and therefore act in unison, they’d be around 40 times as effective at their job.
Suffice to say however, this is not something that’s all that easy to achieve. Thus far, the research team have relied upon some simple rules to guide each bot:
- don’t get too close to other bots
- return if you get too far away from the swarm
- keep pushing forward
- only go in the same direction as your neighbour
An interesting aspect of the project is the attempt to crowdsource changes in design from a pool of citizen scientists. The hope is that changes to the design of each bot will act akin to programming them for particular tasks.
The game asks players to have a go at creating nanoparticles, with various levels in the game allowing players to prove their ability before progressing to more advanced status. The hope is that this army of advanced players will offer up suggested designs that can then be tested in the lab, before then hopefully doing their stuff in a live host.
Since the launch of the game last September, players have undertaken around 80,000 simulations. It’s an impressive number, but still below some of the mega citizen science games such as Eyewire.
The game was however featured in the recent Economist Technology Quarterly, so hopefully exposure like that will help it to reach out to a wider audience and further this fascinating project still further.
Check out the video below for an introduction to NanoDoc.