Inside the Green Brain Project’s labs in the United Kingdom, drones buzz up and down the halls without the need for pilots. Instead they navigate using an “artificial bee brain” that’s been uploaded into their circuitry.
It’s all part of Green Brain’s long-term goal of building a robot that thinks, senses and acts like a honeybee. To do this, scientists mapped a bee brain and recreated with circuits the neural connections that fire on and off in an organic brain. When this “brain” software is uploaded into a drone, researchers have found the bot flies in some remarkably bee-like ways.
Building a brain is not easy. The honeybee brain has more than 1,000,000 connected neurons that help it accomplish a host of cognitive behaviors. Late last year, a different team of scientists uploaded a digital worm brain into a wheeled LEGO robot, but that required them to map just 302 neurons.
So far, the Green Brain team has only recreated the part of a bee’s brain that allows it to see. Still the results were quite stunning. Using video cameras and it’s software, the aircraft flew down a corridor just like a bee trained to accomplish the same task. Currently, the virtual brains can only track motion and not colors or shapes.
Over time, Green Brain scientists want to digitally reconstruct a complete European honeybee brain and create the first robot that acts autonomously like a bee. But for now, they are focusing on recreating a bee’s visual and olfactory systems.
To What End?
There’s no doubt that drones are going to play a bigger role in society as the technology advances and policies get up to speed. Scientists with the Green Brain project hope to use the honeybee brain to design flying robots that can navigate and perform tasks autonomously. Drones that can “think” could play roles in search and rescue missions, anti-poaching efforts or, of course, artificially pollinating crops.
Sadly, honeybee numbers are still on the decline, so it may be up to bee-brained drones to fill in some voids left behind.