“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.”
It may seem odd as a roboticist that I am researching bees, but they represent everything we want our flying robots to be: intelligent, autonomous, agile, computationally efficient, and adaptable! Despite the fact that people have been studying artificial intelligence for decades, there has been minimal success in enabling our robots with any significant intelligence. This has motivated our Green Brain Project team at the University of Sheffield to study and model smaller brains (like honeybees!) in hopes that understanding cognitive processes in insect brains will help us to understand underlying processes in humans.
Currently, autonomous flying robots (also called Unmanned Air Vehicles or UAVs) are limited: they can only operate in extremely simple missions and require a remote human pilot behind the controls at all times. They cannot navigate to sites, plan optimal routes, identify targets, adapt to environmental conditions, or learn from their surroundings. These are all behaviours that are vital to autonomous UAVs if we want them to be a safe, efficient, and sustainable technology.
So when I think of bees… I think of what the future of our UAVs look like, and I get excited at all the possibilities. If we can reproduce the capabilities of bees, we open the door for UAVs to do environmental monitoring, disaster relief surveillance, search and rescue, (ever-so-important) pizza and beer deliveries, and much, much more!