An international study, led by researchers from UNSW Canberra, has uncovered the secret to skillful and conscious flight of bumblebees, with potential applications for the next generation of autonomous drones and vehicles.
The lead author of the research, Dr Sridhar Ravi, studied how bumblebees navigated through a tunnel with a series of gates with different sized holes. The bees were able to successfully fly through the openings, thanks to a remarkable sense of their own size and a detailed perception of obstacle openings.
Dr Ravi said that by scanning the opening, the bumblebees were able to skillfully pass through the gates by manipulating the speed of their approach and posture, even by flying sideways when the hole was smaller than their wingspan. A behavior that required an awareness of one’s body shape and size relative to obstacles, this is the first time such evidence has been seen in flying invertebrates.
“Previous research had indicated that complex processes, such as perception of self size, were cognitively driven and only present in animals with large brains. However, our research indicates that small insects, with even smaller brains, can understand. their body size and use this information while flying in a complex environment, ”said Dr Ravi.
Using “side peering,” a process in which the bee scans a feature using depth perception and spatial awareness, the insects build a complete map of the opening and can change the orientation of their body to fit across the gap. , similar to how humans rotate their backs to pass through a narrow door.
“We were stunned to see that in some cases the bumblebees reoriented sideways to fly through cracks they were unable to attempt head-on. The dexterity of these insects really made us think about what other secret bee behaviors we might unlock.” Dr. Ravi said.
The research also provides inspiration for applying the attributes of bumblebees to robotics with potential applications for the next generation of drone and autonomous vehicle technology to address the challenges of flying in real-world conditions.
“Insects are fantastic models for robots because they have extremely small brains and yet are capable of overly complex tasks. Over the course of thousands of years nature has encoded insects with some surprising attributes. Our challenge now is to see how we can take. this and apply similar coding to future robotic systems, improving their performance in the natural world, ”said Dr Ravi.
A robot for tracking and filming flying insects
Sridhar Ravi et al. Bumblebees perceive the spatial arrangement of their environment in relation to the size and shape of their body to minimize collisions in flight, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020). DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2016872117
Provided by the University of New South Wales Canberra
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