When Southwest Airlines began experiencing a logjam at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, they turned to Mother Nature to help them out.
More specifically, they turned to a colony of ants.
According to a fascinating article in National Geographic, the US airliner studied the concept of “swarm behavior” amongst ant colonies to better manage the multitude of planes, runways, and gates at Sky Harbor.
Ants, and other swarming insects, have spent 140 million years developing and honing group behavior to levels of extraordinary efficiency. The basic concept is that the colony acts as a whole, relying upon “countless interactions between individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb.” The collective interaction creates a synergistic organism which functions in a truly organized, effective and economical manner.
To take advantage of such a system, Southwest implemented a computer program in which planes searching for open gates acted in the same manner as ants searching for direction from the colony. The result was much faster gate arrivals and less time on the tarmac.
Now, if only Southwest can figure out a more efficient way to load up their planes. Hmm… I’ll bet there’s something to be learned from dozens of food-bearing ants squeezing through a narrow hole in a perfectly synchronized manner…