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Robot thinks like a bee, to learn from what it sees


February 10, 2014

The robot makes a bee-line for a red cylinder, after learning that "red is good"

The robot makes a bee-line for a red cylinder, after learning that "red is good"

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Because of bees' small size, maneuverability and almost machine-like swarm mentality, it shouldn't come as a surprise that scientists are developing tiny flying robots based on the insects. In order to navigate autonomously, however, those robots' artificial bee brains will have to be capable of identifying objects in their environment, and reacting accordingly. Well, thanks to research recently conducted in Berlin, they may soon be able to do so.

The research was conducted by scientists at Freie Universität Berlin, the Bernstein Fokus Neuronal Basis of Learning, and the Bernstein Center Berlin. It incorporated a small camera-equipped robot that looks more like a tank than a bee. The robot was connected to a computer, however, and that computer was running a program that simulated the sensorimotor network of an insect's brain.

The robot was placed in an enclosure, in which both red and blue cylinders were present. When the robot's camera first saw one of the red cylinders, it caused a light to flash, which in turn triggered a virtual "reward sensor nerve cell" in the network. This caused the program to subsequently be drawn to the color red, so when the camera saw it again, the robot would automatically start moving towards it.

The seeing of the blue cylinders, on the other hand, triggered a response in which the robot moved away from the color.

“Much like honeybees learn to associate certain flower colors with tasty nectar, the robot learns to approach certain colored objects and to avoid others," explains Freie Universität Berlin's Prof. Martin Paul Nawrot, who led the research. “Only a single learning trial is needed, similar to experimental observations in honeybees.”

Nawrot and his team are now building upon the artificial sensorimotor network, so that the robot can respond to a wider variety of visual stimuli, with a wider range of behaviors.

Source: Freie Universität Berlin

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

This seems a pretty basic idea. Red gets one response; blue gets another. It does not need much computing power to figure that one out.

The device is clearly not a robotic bee, but presumably they want to create a device for surveillance purposes. A very popular requirement for police and the military establishment, who are no doubt funding this project.

Bee vigilant!

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