Bees inspiring robot drones
BEE brains are inspiring the next generation of robot flying drones that can pilot themselves and recognise patterns and objects.
Scientists are modelling the way the insects think to design operating systems far more efficient than those currently available.
In future they could be used to develop self-piloting drones that are light, clever, and cheap to run for applications such as surveying, search and rescue, and surveillance.
Thomas Nowotny, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, said: “We’re taking models of brains and using them directly as controllers of robots. I don’t think that has ever been done before.”
The scientists, who started off investigating ant brains, explored the way bees navigate efficiently using tiny amounts of brain power.
A bee’s brain contains up to one million neurons, 10,000 times fewer than the human brain.
Yet they are capable of high levels of multi-tasking and can adapt to completely new environments.
One of the bee’s secrets is its ability to focus on a specific task, such as finding a flower, without expending more brain power than it needs to.
Its compound eyes see a mosaic of light and dark patches that allow it to navigate without having to bring objects into sharp focus.
Sensitive to ultraviolet light, they can see colours invisible to the human eye.
As part of their £4.8m programme the scientists have devised a virtual reality game that shows human players what it is like to look through the eyes of a bee.
Before the project ends in 2021 the scientists hope to build an autonomous drone that can learn about a complex environment, navigate long routes through it, and return safely back to base without human intervention.