The ant-inspired robot AntBot navigates autonomously in unknown outdoor environments without GPS and using only 14 pixels.


A robot that thinks like an ant - CNRS


AntBot was developed during Julien Dupeyroux's PhD (2015-2019, ISM - AMU/CNRS) which I co-supervised with Stéphane Viollet. The insectoid robot is fully 3D-printed and open-source. The project aimed at designing a brand-new navigation system allowing ground vehicles to navigate autonomously in unknown and outdoor environments, without using GPS, with few computational resources, yet ensuring strong performances (accuracy, robustness and resilience towards the environmental conditions). AntBot was inspired by desert ants Cataglyphis fortis at all design levels.

Morphological mimicry. AntBot is equipped with six 3-DOF legs and can walk with the so-called ant-like tripod gait. According to the walking settings, AntBot can run up to 90cm/s with neglectable roll and yaw disturbances of its head.

Sensing mimicry. Desert ants are sensitive to the celestial pattern of polarization in the ultraviolet range: the dorsal rim area (DRA) of their compound eye contains ommatidia that exhibit a strong sensitivity to the polarized ultraviolet light (350nm). This sensory mode was reproduced on-board AntBot by means of two UV-sensitive photodiodes topped with linear polarizers: this is referred to as the robot's celestial compass and provides AntBot with the estimation of its heading. A 12-pixel optic flow sensor was also embedded on-board AntBot. This bio-inspired sensor - called M²APix, for Michaelis-Menten Auto-adaptive Pixels - shows a high auto-adaptivity to light changes over 7 decades.

Behavioral mimicry. AntBot is endowed with an autonomous navigation system mimicking the so-called path integrator of desert ants. This is relative and vector-based localization mode that combines both heading (celestial compass) and distance (stride counting and optic flow integration) information to determine where the robot is with respect to its departure location. Outdoor experimentations yielded outstanding results as the robot resulted in a homing error as low as 0.67% of its overall trajectory, with a strong resilience toward the weather conditions, but also the shape and distance of the trajectory.

Publications

AntBot: A six-legged walking robot able to home like desert ants in outdoor environments. Dupeyroux, J., Serres, J. R., & Viollet, S. (2019). Science Robotics, 4(27), eaau0307.
An ant-inspired celestial compass applied to autonomous outdoor robot navigation. Dupeyroux, J., Viollet, S., & Serres, J. R. (2019). Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 117, 40-56.
Polarized skylight-based heading measurements: a bio-inspired approach. Dupeyroux, J., Viollet, S., & Serres, J. R. (2019). Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 16(150), 20180878.
A hexapod walking robot mimicking navigation strategies of desert ants Cataglyphis. Dupeyroux, J., Serres, J., & Viollet, S. (2018, July). In Conference on Biomimetic and Biohybrid Systems (pp. 145-156). Springer, Cham.
M²APix: a bio-inspired auto-adaptive visual sensor for robust ground height estimation. Dupeyroux, J., Boutin, V., Serres, J. R., Perrinet, L. U., & Viollet, S. (2018, May). In 2018 IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems (ISCAS) (pp. 1-4). IEEE.
A novel insect-inspired optical compass sensor for a hexapod walking robot. Dupeyroux, J., Diperi, J., Boyron, M., Viollet, S., & Serres, J. (2017, September). In 2017 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) (pp. 3439-3445). IEEE.
A bio-inspired celestial compass applied to an ant-inspired robot for autonomous navigation. Dupeyroux, J., Diperi, J., Boyron, M., Viollet, S., & Serres, J. (2017, September). In 2017 IEEE European Conference on Mobile Robots (ECMR) (pp. 1-6). IEEE.
Hexabot: a small 3D-printed six-legged walking robot designed for desert ant-like navigation tasks. Dupeyroux, J., Passault, G., Ruffier, F., Viollet, S., & Serres, J. (2017, July). In 2017 20th IFAC World Congress (pp. 1-4).

VivaTechnology - Paris May 16-18, 2019

AntBot has been exhibited at the VivaTechnology exhibition in Paris from May 16 to 18, 2019, at EDF's invitation (French electric utility company). Demos were performed during these three days on the Robot Park.

Mme la Ministre des Armées, Florence Parly, M. le Secrétaire d'Etat au Numérique, Cédric O, ainsi que M. le Ministre de l'Economie et des Finances, Bruno Le Maire, ont rencontré AntBot au salon VivaTech 2019 (crédits : CNRS).

Media coverage (in French):

Jack Ma et Emmanuel Macron attendus en « Guest stars » à Viva Technology. Les Echos - Business.
Robots tout-terrain et exosquelettes: en direct du salon Vivatech 2019. Science et Vie.
VivaTech 2019 : course de voitures autonomes, foot virtuel... : que faire samedi pour la journée grand public ? LCI.
Vivatech : les 5 innovations à ne pas rater sur le salon. CNews.
VivaTech 2019 : les innovations qu'il ne fallait pas manquer. RTL.
La deeptech vient en force à VivaTech. IT - Industrie et Technologies.

Public awareness and science popularization (in French)

Entretien avec Enki Bilal. Intervention de Julien Serres au festival "Oh les beaux jours !" (2019, Juin).
Ce petit robot qui navigue sans GPS comme une fourmi. Dupeyroux J., dans The Conversation (2019, Mai).
AntBot : un robot fourmi autonome qui navigue sans GPS. Dupeyroux J., Serres J., & Viollet S., dans La Lettre de Grand Luminy Technopôle, no. 100 (2019, Mai).
Un robot à pattes sans GPS. Podcast réalisé par Barbara Vignaux, Universcience - Palais des Découvertes, Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (2019).
AntBot, le robot fourmi. Reportage réalisé par Nicolas Baker - CNRS, 13 Feb. 2019.
Quand l’intelligence artificielle s’inspire du vivant. Conférence donnée Opera Mundi par Julien Dupeyroux (Chateauneuf-le-Rouge, Novembre 2018).
L'envolée scientifique. Documentaire réalisé par Kenza Chattar du Département SATIS (Sciences Arts et Techniques de l’Image et du Son) de la faculté des Sciences de l’Université d’Aix-Marseille (2017).

National and international media coverage

The AntBot robot. Produced by Nicolas Baker - CNRS, 13th Feb. 2019.
This ant-inspired robot can navigate better than civilian GPS. Science.
AntBot makes its own way home. Nature Electronics.
A 6-legged robot stares at the sky to navigate like a desert ant. Wired.
Ant-inspired walking robot navigates without GPS by using polarized light. Digital Trends.
Robot mimics desert ants to find its way home without GPS. New Scientist.
Robot weet de weg zonder gps dankzij woestijnmier. de Volkskrant.
AntBot, un robot autonome inspiré par des fourmis du désert. Le Monde.
Un robot à pattes qui a le sens de l'orientation. Challenges.
Un capteur peu coûteux pour naviguer sans GPS. Les Echos.
C'est une innovation marquante: ce robot-fourmi s'oriente sans GPS. France Inter.
Le premier robot à pattes qui se déplace sans GPS. CNRS (communiqué de presse).
Marseille : le robot inspiré de la fourmi du désert. La Provence.
Un robot qui se déplace sans GPS conçu à Marseille. La Marseillaise.
Voici Antbot, un robot inspiré des fourmis et qui se déplace sans GPS. Futura Sciences.
Ce robot réussit à s'orienter grâce à la lumière du soleil. Science et Vie.
AntBot : le tout premier robot évoluant sans GPS pour se repérer. Trust My Science.

France24. Emission Tech 24 du 22 Février 2019.
M6. Journal télévisé 12.45 du 19 Février 2019.
France2. Emission Télématin du 30 Avril 2019.