How is an ant navigation algorithm affected by visual parameters and ego-motion?
Ardin, Paul Björn
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Ants typically use path integration and vision for navigation when the environment precludes the use of pheromones for trails. Recent simulations have been able to accurately mimic the retinotopic navigation behaviour of these ants using simple models of movement and memory of unprocessed visual images. Naturally it is interesting to test these navigation algorithms in more realistic circumstances, particularly with actual route data from the ant, in an accurate facsimile of the ant world and with visual input that draws on the characteristics of the animal. While increasing the complexity of the visual processing to include skyline extraction, inhomogeneous sampling and motion processing was conjectured to improve the performance of the simulations, the reverse appears to be the case. Examining closely the assumptions about motion, analysis of ants in the field shows that they experience considerable displacement of the head which when applied to the simulation leads to significant degradation in performance. The family of simulations rely upon continuous visual monitoring of the scene to determine heading and it was decided to test whether the animals were similarly dependent on this input. A field study demonstrated that ants with only visual navigation cues can return the nest when largely facing away from the direction of travel (moving backwards) and so it appears that ant visual navigation is not a process of continuous retinotopic image matching. We conclude ants may use vision to determine an initial heading by image matching and then continue to follow this direction using their celestial compass, or they may use a rotationally invariant form of the visual world for continuous course correction.