Swarms are everywhere in nature. Undulating black clouds of birds. Streaming rivers of ants. Butterflies congregating by the millions. And, yes, human swarms rushing on and off trains and turnpikes.
It is this swarm behavior — this collective intelligence and action — that animates the research of Simon Garnier and members of his Swarm Lab at NJIT.
An assistant professor of biology in the College of Science and Liberal Arts, Dr. Garnier and his interdisciplinary team are looking to answer fundamental questions: how do creatures coexist and thrive in colonies numbering in the tens of millions; what are the mechanisms that underly the coordination of these large animal groups; how does “intelligent” group behavior emerge as information is exchanged and transformed during interactions among members of the group.
The long-term promise of Dr. Garnier’s and the Swarm Lab’s research, though far off, is tantalizing: swarms of nanoscale robots that attack pathogens or clean up oil-polluted waters; larger-scale bot swarms that perform civilian and military search-and-rescue operations; and self-assembling systems that take their cues entirely from the environment to build exactly what’s needed, at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way.