Researchers Relate Brightness-Detecting Insect Eyes to Drone Flight Systems

After studying how insects use their eyes to navigate through dense vegetation, researchers at Lund University in Sweden have come up with a system that they say can eventually be applied to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

When adapted with the system, the drones can adjust their speed to their surroundings and fly on their own – completely without human intervention and control, explains Lund.

Vision researchers Emily Baird and Marie Dacke at Lund’s department of biology have shown how bees that fly through dense forests assess light intensity to avoid other objects and find holes in the vegetation to enable them to navigate safely.

The researchers’ results show that insects, such as the green orchid bee in the Panama rainforests, apply a strategy in which they assess the light intensity to navigate quickly and effectively without crashing. They are guided by the intensity of the light that penetrates the holes in leaves to determine whether a particular hole is sufficiently large 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,” explains Baird. “The system is ideal for adapting to small, lightweight robots, such as drones. My guess is that this will become a reality within five to 10 years.”

Before it is realized, according to the researchers, the biological results from the rainforest must be transformed into mathematical models and digital systems that make it possible for robots to fly in complicated environments completely 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,” Baird continues. “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.”

The research findings are presented in an article in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: “Finding the gap: a brightness-based strategy for guidance in cluttered environments.”

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