Tapping into the collective intelligence of swarms

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.


Swarm Lab studies Swarm Intelligence in natural and artificial systems, crowds, and their applications to complex problems such the organization of pedestrian traffic or the control of robotic swarms.

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What single-celled gelatinous blobs lack in brain power, they make up for with surprisingly complex decision-making.

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Can ants and mold slime explain collective human behavior?
For Simon Garnier of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike has become an opportunity to ponder human inefficiency. Garnier is studying ants and slime mold in order to better understand collective human behavior.

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Simon Garnier
Simon GarnierAssistant Professor of Biology, College of Science and Liberal Arts, and founder of NJIT’s Swarm Lab