Bio-Inspired Flight Takes Off

While creepy, crawly, or just plain gross, insects are in fact the object of many scientists’ affections.Those involved in the field of biomimicry are attempting to figure out exactly how some of these fascinating critters have honed in on some pretty amazing skills.

Take the honey bee, for example. It’s an animal robotocists just can’t seem to get enough of these days. We featured a previous post on Harvard’s Robobee — a tiny little robot actually inspired by both bees and flies. Whats so great about these bugs? They’re speedy, energy efficient little creatures that can get wherever they need to go with nothing more than paper-thin wings — It doesn’t get much better than that when it comes to sophisticated locomotion!

A recent study carried out by out by researchers from The Vision Centre and The University of Queensland Brain Research Institute in Australia, describes how bees manage to land so gracefully. Because insects’ eyes aren’t wide-set like ours, they can’t gauge distances the same way we do. From a bee’s perspective, if the view of an object is expanding too quickly as it’s approaching, the insect knows it’s got to start hitting the breaks. If the view of the object is still expanding slowly, the bee knows it can speed up because it’s got a ways to. So the name of the game when it comes to bee landing is to keep the expansion of that image constant — that’s the only way they can guarantee a seamless touch-down.

Based on the bee strategy, researchers came up with a mathematical model for guiding landings.This finding could prove to be very useful in the development of robotic air crafts that currently rely on costly and cumbersome radars and sonars. An effort to copy how bees land may only require a simple vision-based system relying mainly on simple video cameras.

If you want to learn more about bio-inspired flying machines, check out the TED talk above by Dr. David Lentink, a participant in the Convergent Science Network’s Living Machines Conference and the Barcelona Cognition, Brain and Technology Summer School (BCBT).

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