Scientists, led by an Indian-origin researcher, are developing biologically-inspired drones that can navigate just like birds and insects without needing human input, radar or satellite navigation.
A team at the University of Queensland in Australia is studying flying techniques that budgerigars and bees share, and applying their findings to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles control programmes. We are studying how small airborne creatures such as bees and birds use their vision to avoid collisions with obstacles, fly safely through narrow passages, control their height above the ground and more.
Insects and birds have very different brains in terms of size and architecture, yet the visual processing in both animals is very effective at guiding their flight. Bees’ brains weigh a tenth of a milligramme and carry fewer neurons than our brains; yet the insects are capable of navigating to food sources over 10 km away from their hive. Birds too can perform incredible aerobatics and navigational feats. These animals are clearly using simple and elegant strategies, honed by thousands of years of evolution.
The team is mainly focusing on the flight of bees and budgies because these animals are clever, can be easily trained, and possess sophisticated visual systems that are not unlike those of our own. The study of their behavior could also reveal some of the basic principles of visual guidance in humans. These UAVs could be useful for surveillance, rescue operations, defence, and planetary exploration.