The ANTS problem

Ofer Feinerman, Amos Korman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We introduce the Ants Nearby Treasure Search problem, which models natural cooperative foraging behavior such as that performed by ants around their nest. In this problem, k probabilistic agents, initially placed at a central location, collectively search for a treasure on the two-dimensional grid. The treasure is placed at a target location by an adversary and the agents’ goal is to find it as fast as possible as a function of both k and D, where D is the (unknown) distance between the central location and the target. We concentrate on the case in which agents cannot communicate while searching. It is straightforward to see that the time until at least one agent finds the target is at least Ω(D+ D2/ k) , even for very sophisticated agents, with unrestricted memory. Our algorithmic analysis aims at establishing connections between the time complexity and the initial knowledge held by agents (e.g., regarding their total number k), as they commence the search. We provide a range of both upper and lower bounds for the initial knowledge required for obtaining fast running time. For example, we prove that log log k+ Θ(1) bits of initial information are both necessary and sufficient to obtain asymptotically optimal running time, i.e., O(D+ D2/ k). We also we prove that for every 0 < ϵ< 1 , running in time O(log 1 - ϵk· (D+ D2/ k)) requires that agents have the capacity for storing Ω(log ϵk) different states as they leave the nest to start the search. To the best of our knowledge, the lower bounds presented in this paper provide the first non-trivial lower bounds on the memory complexity of probabilistic agents in the context of search problems. We view this paper as a “proof of concept” for a new type of interdisciplinary methodology. To fully demonstrate this methodology, the theoretical tradeoff presented here (or a similar one) should be combined with measurements of the time performance of searching ants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-168
Number of pages20
JournalDistributed Computing
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Advice complexity
  • Ants
  • Central place foraging
  • Cow-path problem
  • Memory bounds
  • Mobile robots
  • Online algorithms
  • Quorum sensing
  • Search algorithms
  • Social insects
  • Speed-up

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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