By encouraging Glass users to behave and work like virtual ants, a new game called Swarm! is showing the tremendous potential for augmented reality to bring crowdsourcing to the next level — if not to humanity itself.

Swarm! is currently under development by Daniel Estrada of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Jonathan Lawhead of Columbia University in New York.


Here's how they describe the game:

Swarm! is a Massively Multiplayer Online Augmented Reality Simulation (MMOARS) game in which you are an ant foraging, fighting, and working tirelessly for your Colony and your life! Designed exclusively for Glass, Swarm! can be played with minimal user input or updates while allowing for an immersive team gaming experience with surprising strategic depth. Swarm! takes full advantage of Glass’ innovative design to provide a glimpse not only of the future of social gaming, but perhaps the future of social organization itself.

In other words, the advent of a hive mind.


The game works by sampling GPS data to generate a record of specific and critical aspects of a player's daily routine. Like an ant's pheromone trail, a player's movements are visualized as colorful trails on a map card. Swarm! presents this on Glass's display.

"We’ve both spent the last few years studying complex systems, and that research has informed many aspects of Swarm!’s design," note the team in a recent promo video. "A real ant colony organizes thousands of individuals to handle a diverse range of jobs, from cultivating food to building elaborate cities — and they do this all by leaving trails on the ground that record their activity. No ant tells any other ant what to do or where to go, but they still manage to accomplish impressive feats of planning and coordination through highly organized collective action."

Swarm!, say the developers, is an ant simulation game designed to help people understand how such a thing is possible.


In the game, players seek out virtual resources to benefit their colony, like food or whatever else the game holds of value. At the same time, they must avoid crossing the trails of other colony members. A resource pool can be monopolized by taking photos of it.


New Scientist elaborates on the potential for Swarm! and similar gaming technologies:

To gain further resources for their colony, players can carry out real-world tasks. For example, if the developers wanted to create a map of the locations of every power outlet in an airport, they could reward players with virtual food for every photo of a socket they took. The photos and location data recorded by Glass could then be used to generate a map that anyone could use. Such problems can only be solved by people out in the physical world, yet the economic incentives aren't strong enough for, say, the airport owner to provide such a map.

Estrada and Lawhead hope that by turning tasks such as these into games, Swarm! will capture the group intelligence ant colonies exhibit when they find the most efficient paths between food sources and the home nest.

Lawhead envisions a number of other applications for the game, such as mapping hiking trails in a park so that the park ranger could see areas that need maintenance. At a larger scale, he says, game data could help city planners optimise a transport system by having fine-grained data about where and when people tend to travel.


Swarm! is being designed and developed by Chaotic Good, in partnership with Interdisciplined, a non-profit educational collaboratory in New York. The team hopes to build a working prototype by the end of the year.

[Via KurzweilAI and New Scientist]

Top image: Paramount/ST:TNG


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