Bees in­spir­ing robot drones

Glamorgan Gazette - - Your Environment -

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.

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