The Genius of Nature
November 19, 2012 3:11 AM Subscribe
Bees and a species of bird can solve the traveling salesman problem
posted by bookman117 (34 comments total)
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"It’s Saturday; you’ve got errands to run. Your spouse wants bread from the bakery, you need to pick up the dry cleaning, your kids need new shoes, and you’ve got a dentist appointment. None of this is any fun, so you might as well do it as quickly as possible by calculating the fastest and most efficient route that takes you to each stop... Menger and Whitney both discovered that the number of possible routes between stops increases exponentially with each additional destination. In a typical model, for instance, three stops yield six routes, while eight stops yield 40,320... By setting up five artificial flowers in a pentagon shape and tracking each bee’s path, researchers discovered that every bee optimized its route, visiting the highest-reward flowers in the shortest possible amount of time."
"The bees were especially keen when faced with the issue of short-term inconvenience for longer-term reward, going slightly out of their way to visit the higher-yield flowers even when it cost them a few seconds of travel time.
And it turns out bees aren’t the only animals that beat humans to solving the traveling salesman problem. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have suggested that birds called Clark’s Nutcrackers perform a similar algorithm when collecting the 30,000 pine nuts they bury in 5,000 caches throughout the winter. Clark’s Nutcrackers, the researchers speculated, use landmarks to remember the location of each stash and calculate the fastest route between each bush or rock when collecting their nuts. Even more impressively, the birds could use dead reckoning, an ability to return directly to an earlier spot without the use of visual aids."