How Bee Flight Patterns Are Helping With Drone Design

There's a lot riding on bees. What, with the whole "please don't go extinct or it will destroy our food supply" thing, and now potentially the future of drone technology.

Recent research shows that bees could be vital in developing drones that are better at avoiding obstacles.

Image: Shutterstock

Scientists at the University of Sheffield have created a computer model of how bees avoid walls, based on on bee behavior and neurological data. You can watch it below:

So how does this all work? Bees control their flight using the speed of motion -- or optic flow -- of the visual world around them. How they do it is (so far) a mystery. Studies on insect brains to date have only detected neural circuits that can tell the direction of motion, not the speed.

"This is the reason why bees are confused by windows," Lead researcher, Professor James Marshall said. "Since they are transparent they generate hardly any optic flow as bees approach them."

The model created by the team, the Angular Velocity Detector Unit (AVDU), reproduces several behavioural patterns including the previously unaccounted-for observations in what the researchers call "the bee corridor-centering response".

What this study means for drone design is that motion-direction detecting circuits could be wired together to also detect motion-speed. This is how bees control their flight -- and could very well be the future of how drones behave, too.

[Plos]