Many ants make light work; quantifying force output of weaver ant teams
Teams benefit from increased participation to a point – where the benefit of cooperation is outweighed by the cost of coordination. In social insects, this trade-off has an opportunity to be averted, as advanced coordination emerges from self-organised, distributed mechanisms. Where observed human behaviours such as a lack of motivation and accountability in teams challenge productivity, social insect mechanisms, such as positive feedback loops, could serve to improve it. In chapter one, I discuss human, robot and social insect teams and propose collective force generation as an ideal system to observe the complexities of efficient teamwork. In chapter two, I measure forces applied by teams of weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina). During nest construction, weaver ants attach to leaf edges and self-assemble into pulling chains, folding leaves together to make nesting chambers. Here I find that weaver ants not only sustain their individual effort despite increasing team sizes, but also contribute additional force per team member, in some circumstances. Chain arrangement and body posture analysis reveal individuals within a team contribute uneven amounts of effort, potentially revealing the control mechanism generating ‘superefficient’ teamwork. Further study of social insect systems will inspire the application of control mechanisms that generate effective teamwork, for the improvement of engineered systems such as swarm robotics.