Using Bee Brains To Make Robots Smarter

By Amir Khan on October 2, 2012 10:42 AM EDT

Short-Haired Bumblebee
The key to helping robots be more autonomous may lie in bees, according to new research from the University of Sheffield (Photo: Creative Commons)

The key to helping robots be more autonomous may lie in bees, according to new research from the University of Sheffield, in the United Kingdom. Researchers said that future robots mimic the sensory systems of a bee, which would allow it to act autonomously, instead of carrying out a set of instructions.

Researchers anticipate using such robots for a wide range of applications, such as search and rescue missions and crop pollination.

Until now, research into the recreation of biological brains has focused on larger animals, such as monkeys and mice. However, the researcher said the bee brain is surprisingly complex, and would be a good target to recreate.

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"Simpler organisms such as social insects have surprisingly advanced cognitive abilities," Dr. James Marshall, lead researcher and a computer scientist at the University of Sheffield, told BBC News. "Because the honey bee brain is smaller and more accessible than any vertebrate brain, we hope to eventually be able to produce an accurate and complete model that we can test within a flying robot."

The models of the bee brain would run on a cluster of powerful graphics cards that can carry out numerous calculations simultaneously. The calculations would mimic the bee's ability to find their way back to the colony or hive from great distances away.

"Using NVIDIA's massively parallel GPU accelerators for brain models is an important goal of the project as they allow us to build faster models than ever before," Dr Thomas Nowotny, a researcher on the project, said in a statement. "We expect that in many areas of science this technology will eventually replace the classic supercomputers we use today."

Scientists think the bee uses the sun as a reference point, compensating for its movement, in order to find their route home.

There is no word on when the robotic bee brain could be ready, but researchers are hard at work to make it a reality.

"Not only will this pave the way for many future advances in autonomous flying robots, but we also believe the computer modelling techniques we will be using will be widely useful to other brain modelling and computational neuroscience projects," Dr. Nowotny said.

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