Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi of Japan, and Dan Bebber, Mark Fricker of the UK, were jointly awarded the 2010 Ig Nobel Transportation Planning prize for using slime mould to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks. See: ‘Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design’ in Science, Vol. 327. no. 5964, January 22, 2010, pp. 439-42.
If slime moulds can help plan the Tokyo rail network, might they also successfully apply their ’embodied intelligence’ to rationalise motorway network topology? Specifically French motorway network topology? This is the question asked – and answered – in a new research study scheduled for publication in the journal Environment and Planning B Planning and Design entitled: ‘Evaluation of French motorway network in relation to slime mould transport networks’ The photos below show slime mould explorations (in Petri dishes) where oat flakes are used to represent the major French urban centres.
“We demonstrate that despite the apparent complexity of the challenge, Physarum can successfully apply its embodied intelligence to rationalise the motorway topology. We also demonstrate that such calculations prove challenging in the face of significant obstacles such as, mountainous terrain and may account for the missing route between Nice, Grenoble, Avignon and Lyon.”
The team also note possibilities for future research work, using spiders instead of mould:
“For a further study, it would be interesting to experiment whether a spider would construct a similar network structure given the same boundary constraints as topographically delineated at the French frontiers.”
Note: The new paper doesn’t cite the recent work by Dimonte, Adamatzky, Erokhin and Levin who found that : ‘Slime moulds prefer right turns’
UPDATE (September 8, 2016): They also do it in 3D, Reto Schneider reports.