Bees have been a popular topic of study for some time due to their social nature and ability to develop complex social structures with little of the command and control hierarchy so common in human societies.
Interestingly, researchers from the University of Sheffield believe that greater understanding of bees could also herald a breakthrough in the development of autonomous robots.
A paper, recently published in PLOS, explores the creation of a computer model to explore how bees avoid hitting walls. The team was looking at understanding the visual capabilities of the bees that enable them to understand movement around them and thus avoid bumping into things.
There is growing evidence that such research is finding its way into working products. For instance, the National Science Foundation have been supporting a number of projects to develop insect-like devices to perform everything from reconnaissance to artificial pollination.
Despite flying under the radar, the machines are becoming increasingly capable. The RoboBees, as they’re known, are rapidly advancing towards an autonomous state, with progress being made in everything from micro-manufacturing to small-scale energy storage.
The issue of artificial pollination is particularly interesting, as bees are responsible for around 80% of all pollination around the world. This contributes to around 70% of the top crops grown in the world, so it’s a pretty big deal, especially as bee populations are under significant threat.
Researchers from Warsaw University of Technology have developed a device, known as B-Droid, to try and help matters. The device is a kind of robotic bee that is designed to fly between flowers and artificially pollinate plants. It is capable of operating autonomously in a predefined area and uses tiny onboard cameras to successfully navigate between plants.