The hovering technology created to mimic bees is advanced. Some scientists theorize that it could possibly be used to assist in crop pollination. With the dwindling bee population threatening the world’s food crop production, it’s theorized that a colony of bee drones could be programmed to take over the task.
While researchers have more militaristic applications for the mini-drones, some researchers still hold out the hope that such technology could be put to agriculture and other industry uses. (1)
US Army research electronics engineer Dr. Joseph Conroy of the Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) has worked on developing these robotic systems. RDECOM’s projects are focused on developing technology and engineering projects that are geared toward assisting American soldiers.
This recent technology was inspired by the neurophysiology of insects and are capable of navigating through visual sensors. The drone has a wide-field vision and updates at a very high rate. Both of these traits are found in insects and researchers are now at the stage of testing both manned and unmanned prototypes at the Fort Benning, Georgia site of Maneuver Center of Excellence.
According to an announcement published by the Army Research Lab ARL, 3D mapping and motion estimations will be used by the drones. “The tests will help to inform ARL researchers on how Soldiers might utilize information that can be provided by these platforms while attempting to clear a building from a safe distance in an urban environment,” Conroy said. (2)
Insect Drones to Assist Soldiers
The ARL has worked with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers on the project. Designing technology of autonomous systems to team up with soldiers is the goal for developing this type of technology.
In fact, “ARL’s robotics enterprise… explores ways to enhance Soldiers’ situational awareness on the battlefield through basic research on micro-scale robotic systems.” (2)
With the aid of The Army’s Micro-Autonomous Systems Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance (MAST CTA) includes CMU and is “led by BAE Systems, with principal members — the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania and 13 other university consortium members.” (2)
Another part of the research goal is to eventually transition the technologies developed by the ARL and the consortium into the industry sector.
The insect drones are designed to assist soldiers in various tactical situations for entire squads and also for individuals. The drones should be able to assist soldiers in various environments from urban to more complex ones.
Conroy emphasized that the tests will determine whether the prototype will perform the way it was designed to operate. However, he quickly adds that, “…the real goal of this exercise is to put the technology in the hands of Soldiers, gather their feedback, and gain understanding about what will make autonomous systems more useful.” (2)
This will be the first testing done with the 3D mapping and in an unstructured environment. Previous tests have all been conducted in controlled environments. This is a very important step in the stage of development to see if the equipment can operate effectively in a larger scale uncontrolled environment.
Why Mimic Insects?
According to ARL, the team became interested in the “insect capability of detecting and tracking small targets and their capability for perceiving structure of the environment without stereo vision.” (2)
One technology that researchers are anxious to test is how effectively the robots mimic insect vision and using “motion to perceive structure”.
References & Image Credits:
(1) TSW: Using Robotic Bees to Pollinate – Future Animals
(3) VinothChandar via Compfight cc