Industrial & Medical Technology

Insect Vision Paves the Way for Autonomous Speed-Changing Drones

07 April 2016

Researchers from Lund University have developed a system based on insect eyes that they plan on applying to flying robots like drones. Using the system, drones could better adjust their speeds based on their surroundings, independently, without any human intervention.

Bees use light to steer through vegetation. This technique could be applied to drones. (Image Credit: Emily Baird/ Lund University)Bees use light to steer through vegetation. This technique could be applied to drones. (Image Credit: Emily Baird/ Lund University)The breakthrough started when vision researchers Emily Baird and Marie Dacke from the University’s Department of Biology discovered how bees that fly through dense forests assess light intensity to avoid other objects and find holes in the leaves to allow for safer navigation.

Being able to avoid collision is an important aspect of animal and insect safety because they typically live in environments comprised of many obstacles. The researchers’ results showed that insects like the green orchid bee in the Panama rainforests apply a strategy that involves assessing the light intensity to navigate quickly and effectively without crashing. The insects are guided by the intensity of the light that infiltrates the holes in leaves to determine whether a particular hole is large enough for them to fly through safely without hitting the edges.   

“The system is so simple – it’s highly likely that other animals also use light in this way. The system is ideal for adapting to small, light-weight robots, such as drones. My guess is that this will become a reality within five to ten years”, said Baird.

Now the researchers want to apply that same methodology to drones. First the researchers will need to take results from the rainforest and transform them into mathematical models and digital systems that will make it possible for robots to fly in complicated environments without human intervention.

“Using light to navigate in complex environments is a universal strategy that can be applied by both animals and machines to detect openings and get through them safely. Really, the coolest thing is the fact that insects have developed simple strategies to cope with difficult problems for which engineers have still to come up with a solution,” said Baird.

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