Can Honeybees Help Improve Drones?

The University of Sheffield thinks bees could be vital in developing drones that are better at avoiding obstacles.

Let’s hope bees don’t go instinct, for drone’s sake. That’s because the University of Sheffield thinks bees could be vital in developing drones that are better at avoiding obstacles.

The scientists have actually created a computer model of how bees avoid walls while buzzing around. The video above shows off that model, which makes assumptions based on bee behavior and neurological data.

According to the team’s study, 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. The only neural circuits so far found in the insect brain can tell the direction of motion, not the speed.

“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.

This study suggests how motion-direction detecting circuits could be wired together to also detect motion-speed, which is crucial for controlling bees’ flight.

The study, titled “A Model for an Angular Velocity-Tuned Motion Detector Accounting for Deviations in the Corridor-Centering Response of the Bee,” has been published in PLOS Computational Biology.

Of course, drones are already pretty darn good at avoiding obstacles. DJI’s Phantom 4 drone is probably the best thanks to its five cameras and computer vision software. And MIT showed us a drone that autonomously avoids obstacles when it flies 30 miles per hour.

But, hey, anything that can improve avoidance technology can’t be a bad thing.


About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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