Ants, Humans, and Traffic Jams. What is there to learn?

Have you ever thought about how traffic starts? Thanks to researchers from the University of Toulouse and the University of Arizona, we have a bit more clarity on what the real culprit of traffic jams is, and you may be shocked to find out that what we learned came from ants.

If you ever take the time to watch ants and how they move in groups, you may notice they never seem to have any hold ups. The reason for this is simple. When traffic is light, ants go at it with a more individual approach by spacing themselves out. But when it gets heavy, comparable to humans’ bumper-to-bumper traffic, ants will form into a single continuous stream and move together as a whole.

To test this, researchers built bridges in several different ant colonies that ranged from 400 to more than 25,000 ants. The narrowest of bridges had no effect on the colonies, their traffic remained steady regardless of the burden put onto the infrastructure. Researchers also noted that the ants restrained from entering a path that was too crowded or overpopulated.

In another study, physicist Apoorva Nagar from the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology had very similar findings himself and came up with a model that attempts to explain traffic jams in an effort to reduce their commonality in our society.

So, where do humans go wrong? Well, the answer is a lot simpler than one would imagine. It is human nature to act as an individual and not as a whole. Driving with little to no traffic is a breeze. When you introduce a pile up though, drivers have a difficult time refraining from zooming in and out of traffic, unlike the ants who follow each other tightly in line for the benefit of the whole group.

The takeaway is that even with the construction of wider bridges in our infrastructure, there will always be unsolvable traffic if humans don’t take a more wholistic approach and move together like an ant would with its own colony. Let’s give it a try?

By Meagan Brown, TDS Communications Intern

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply