SIGGRAPH 2008 > For Attendees > New Tech Demos > Atta Texana Leafcutting Ant Colony

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Atta Texana Leafcutting Ant Colony: A View Underground

Theme: Complexity and Accessibility
Hall H

The Atta project maps tunnels and chambers of a vast leafcutting ant colony. A ground-penetrating-radar scan was translated into a 3D model that can be viewed on an immersive visualization system that scales the viewer to ant size. The scanning is nondestructive and is the first time GPR has been used to map a living ant colony.

To achieve this goal, the project combines the site-specific nature of an indexical system, GPR, with the ability of an algorithm to parse the data. The model retains a formal connection with its subject and can be distributed and viewed in many different ways.

Enhanced Life
When combined, all ants in the world weigh about as much as all humans. Yet we tend to view ants as tiny individuals rather than the superorganisms scientists have discovered them to be. The immersive system scales the viewer to ant size and reveals a different perspective on colony architecture.

Methods of modeling ant colonies include pouring casting material into a nest, digging it up and piecing it back together, or using a bulldozer to scrape away successive layers of soil and measuring the diameter of the holes. The goal of this project was to find a nondestructive way to create a model.

This is the first time GPR has been used to model an ant colony. A method was developed to translate data from proprietary scanning software to a format suitable for high-end 3D modeling, by building layers around known voids. The system may be adaptable to other projects with similar parameters.

This project is part of a larger endeavor to document a landscape using technology in nondestructive ways. One might think of threatened ecosystems as exotic and distant, but much rural land continues to disappear beneath development. There is still much to be discovered in a single patch of one's backyard.

Carol LaFayette
Fred Parke
Lauren Simpson
Audrey Wells
Igor Kraguljac
Visualization Department, Texas A&M University

Carl J. Pierce
St. Lawrence University

Tatsuya Nakamura
Starz Animation