Scientists are taking inspiration from insects to create efficiently navigating robots | Robotics

Insects have tiny brains because they are tiny themselves. And yet they have pretty good navigation abilities that are surprising to scientists to say the least. The world is much bigger to insects and yet they manage to fly back to their home. These abilities are inspiring scientists to create new robot designs. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh built computer algorithms to better understand insect neural circuits.

Insects have tiny brain, but can navigate extremely well. Image credit: Quartl via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Our future belongs to robots. They are going to work for us more and more, boosting our economy and freeing our hands to tackle more complex tasks. Robots mean progress to us, but they are still kind of stupid and easy to get lost. Typically robots navigate using complex algorithms and GPS, but that is not the best solution for localized areas. Meanwhile insects have tiny brains and navigate just fine. Scientists created computer algorithms to analyse neural circuits in insect’s brain and then built robots to mimic how these circuits work. Hopefully, findings will help us creating robots that could work in agricultural setting, clear trash or carry out other mundane tasks.

Scientists build a smartphone on wheels. It was meant to test algorithms abilities to mimic insect behaviour when navigating in familiar environment. This robot can record insect-eye views through a field of vegetation and then use that information on the next trip. This robot also uses compass and speed sensor to tracks its motion from home position to its destination and then use this information to go back. This is quite an impressive ability for a small and relatively simple robot, but it comes as no surprise that it was built taking inspiration from nature.

It is not difficult to imagine where similar robots could be useful. A bunch of them could be released in a park or other recreational area and they could gather garbage and bring it all to the same place. They could also dispense pesticides and fertilizers in the fields in farms. These and many other tasks can be accomplished cheaper and easier without use of much more complex equipment. Barbara Webb, one of the scientists behind the project, said: “It is difficult to measure neural activity in an insect flying or running around its natural environment. Building robot models helps us bridge the gap between brain and behaviour”.

There is still a lot science can learn from nature. Insects perform difficult tasks while having very small primitive brain. Researching it could help us create better robots and better artificial intelligence.

 

Source: University of Edinburgh


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