These are times when you wish you could gather children over a bonfire to tell the story of how slime saved the day!
How Slime Can Learn & Perhaps Replace A Transportation Planner Or Two
In the unusual material and fabrics department, the rebirth of the electric vehicle (EV) has been been paired with a number of green, nature-inspired or -infused innovations. Seats made of soy end up in Ford cars, when the company isn’t using recycled plastic bottles or other green materials. In 2011, we sat down with the Ford team working on ways of making soy derivatives for the interior of cars. The goal was to lighten up, stiffen up, and further recyclability with non-toxic clean materials. Those foams replaced common chemical ones — you know, that new car smell so many people seem to enjoy that is nothing more than the chemical glue bonding agents still reeking in the car. We’ve also witnessed the rise of carbon fiber and exotic battery chemicals.
But now, it may be time to introduce our new helper. Neither silicon nor soy, slime mold nonetheless has a serious feature that could help facilitate the design of our future electric mobility needs.
When we observe ants, bees, or other insects with very small cranial capacity, we notice that, combined, those tiny cycles amount to a lot of brain power. Together, they act as a gigantic, natural Internet that can make a coherent, uniform decision. But wait, it gets even better — slime can be taught to avoid risks or even take risks for the greater reward. How’s that for another look at slime, that ancient inhabitant of Earth that learned to evolve throughout millions of years? When these entities pull their resources together, they can face incredible odds, adapt, and display an intrinsic intelligence.
Slime progresses and adapts to its environment through a non-centralized system. These cellular entities bond together, face survival obstacles, and have flourished for eons. This single-cell organism — slime mold — packs millions of nucleus connections. But how does slime turn chaos into efficient, effective, resilient, adaptive pathways? That is the trillion-dollar question.
When Slime Gives Modern Technology A Tendril
It turns out slime can learn and be trained. It can be taught to face complex situations and act as if it was trained. “For being a single-cell organism without a brain, slime mold can act pretty smart. As it grows, slime mold can keep track of where it’s been, it can solve mazes in search of food, and it can even be trained to take risks in the name of a big payoff,” The Verge reports.
A transportation test was conducted in Japan in which slime mold was put on a dish with a representation of the city of Tokyo that had train stations with different food sources. The slime started from the center and made almost the same connections the real live train map does in the city. What this means is that slime mold is a cheap way of making fairly efficient pathways and connections for the future of our electric mobility needs. Slime will map out how we get anywhere. Here is what it would look in the US.
While we may not jump right on the bandwagon and assault our local chemistry store to grow mold to predict pathways, this story highlights an important point that is becoming more and more obvious: technology and nature must meet. In this particular case, it is hypothesized that getting to the core algorithms slime uses could potentially help self-driving cars of the future. They could better coordinate for maximized transportation efficiency and speed.
Silicon-based technology must work with organic carbon compounds. Crab antennas have been grafted onto mechanical sensors and have been feeding data. We’re not too far away from the Star Trek–like Borg idea of organic structure enhanced by silicon technology. How far will we go?
We’ll see. In the meantime, let’s see if researchers can use slime to improve the algorithms of self-driving vehicles.