Smarter Than The Average Ant, It's Robo Ant

Keeping ants behind glass is one way to study how intelligent behavior emerges from simple instincts. But Luis R. Lopez, a scientist at an Army research laboratory in Huntsville, Ala., has formed a company to offer an even more entertaining alternative: an antlike robot called Insecta.

Insecta can outlearn ants. Fed a few simple software rules, the robot evolves increasingly complex operations. Its genetic algorithms start with snippets of software that combine and exchange data, and automatically create more complex programs. For guidance, Insecta will use neural networks, or circuits that mimic the reasoning powers of the human brain. Finished Insecta robots and software will be ready by yearend for $800 and up. Lopez' new company, Ublige Software & Robotics Corp., will also offer kits, optional sensors, and modules for do-it-yourselfers fascinated by artificial life.