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Jim Bendon / Flickr

Termites, ants, and bees are known for the massive, complex habitats they construct for their colonies. Computer scientists from Harvard have cracked part of the code that lets termites build their mounds. By studying animal models like this one, published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists hope to develop better codes for robots.

Why they did it: It's common for roboticists and programmers to look to nature for inspiration. Machines that work in groups face some of the same challenges that insects do, Ben Green, an author of the study and mathematician at Harvard, tells Axios. Green says that like insects, "each device only has a small set of knowledge, so they need to work together to find a solution."

What they found: Past research has suggested termites coordinate building by leaving behind pheromones or chemical signals, and later deposit pellets of soil in the signaled areas. But in this study, the termites preferred to excavate where other termites were currently digging, and their behavior was focused around digging, not building. The researchers used their data to create a model that mimicked the excavation behavior of the termites.

Follow the leader: It's still unclear how termites choose where to dig in the first place, says Green. But once one termite selected a dig site, the others quickly followed.

How they did it: The researchers captured 396 termites of two different species, and used videos to track individuals as they constructed channels and walls in a controlled environment.

"These groups are able to achieve incredible things," says Green, "far more than any individual would be able to do."

Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
5 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”