Robot 'Thinks' Like a Honey Bee

Roboticists already have developed a robot that runs like a cheetah and one that moves like an earthworm. Now engineers in the UK are trying to create artificial intelligence that will power a flying robot that can think like a honey bee.

The Green Brain project, out of the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex, is working on the production of the first computer models of the brain of a honey bee, particularly the systems that control vision and sense of smell, according to researchers.

Using this artificial intelligence, scientists plan to develop a flying robot that can act autonomously as a bee would, rather than be programmed to carry out movements and actions. The robot will be used in further research to help solve the tricky problem of creating a true artificial brain that can actually think for itself, rather than perform tasks via programmed software, according to scientists.

While researchers have tried to do this by studying brains of more complex organisms, such as rats and monkeys, Project Green Brain's scientists think focusing on simpler yet social creatures like honey bees could garner more success, according to the project's leader, Dr. James Marshall of the University of Sheffield. "The development of an artificial brain is one of the greatest challenges in artificial intelligence," Marshall said in a press release. "Because the honey bee brain is smaller and more accessible than any vertebrate brain, we hope to eventually be able to produce an accurate and complete model that we can test within a flying robot."

Once this artificial intelligence is developed, scientists expect to accelerate the development of new advancements in autonomous flying robots, said Dr. Thomas Nowotny, the leader of the University of Sussex team, in the press release. The project also could have future applications in brain modeling and computational neuroscience. Additionally, researchers will learn more about honey bees and perhaps glean information about their decline in population in recent years.

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded the project, which also is using high-performance processors donated by NVIDIA. The processors -- used to generate 3D graphics on PCs and game consoles, as well as power supercomputers -- will allow scientists to forgo using expensive supercomputers to run their calculation-heavy models and use a less expensive and cumbersome standard PC instead, researchers said.

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