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How slime mold could shape the future of self-driving cars

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‘It tastes like... have you ever licked the floor?’

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. How exactly? We visited the Swarm Lab at the New Jersey Institute of Technology to find out.

Here, assistant professor Simon Garnier studies decentralized systems like colonies of ants — or petri dishes filled with slime mold — to figure out how these organisms make decisions and solve problems together. That’s what’s called “swarm intelligence,” and in the future, this kind of information could help us design an algorithm to create a more efficient network of self-driving cars.

If you want to learn more about slime mold, watch the video above. We joined Garnier in the lab to re-create a famous slime mold experiment, and we even tasted some right out of the petri dish. (Spoiler: it tasted like moss.) Not that we walked into his lab with the idea of eating some stinky, unicellular organism. But we had to give it a try after Garnier said: “It tastes like... have you ever licked the floor?”