London | Scientists have created a computer model to look at how bees use vision to detect the movement of the world around them and avoid crashes, a breakthrough which could help develop autonomous flying robots. Bees control their flight using the speed of motion – or optic flow – of the visual world around them, but it is not known how they do this, said researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK.
The only neural circuits so far found in the insect brain can tell the direction of motion, not the speed. The study suggests how motion-direction detecting circuits could be wired together to also detect motion-speed, which is crucial for controlling bees’ flight, researchers said.
Honeybees are excellent navigators and explorers, using vision extensively in these tasks, despite having a brain of only one million neurons, said Alex Cope, lead researcher on the research paper published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.
Understanding how bees avoid walls, and what information they can use to navigate, moves us closer to the development of efficient algorithms for navigation and routing – which would greatly enhance the performance of autonomous flying robotics, he said.
This is the reason why bees are confused by windows – since they are transparent they generate hardly any optic flow as bees approach them, said Professor James Marshall, lead investigator on the project.
Cope and his fellow researchers on the project are now using this research to investigate how bees understand which direction they are pointing in and use this knowledge to solve tasks.
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