Honey Bee Brains Can Now Fly Drones

Zach Doell


The honey bee: it may be small, but what the bee lacks in size, it makes up in brain power. In fact, that tiny little noggin is the subject of an extensive project from researchers at the UK’s Sheffield and Sussex universities. 

Members of the Green Brain Project are working to digitally recreate the cognitive abilities of Apis mellifera, the European honeybee. They hope they will be able to create a robot that senses, thinks, and acts like a honeybee. It would appear the project is off to a good start; their digital bee brain simulation has already proven able to navigate a quadcopter drone along a wall at different distances, all on its own.

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So, why choose to recreate a bee brain? The honey bee represents an ideal balance of size and cognitive ability, measuring in at a tiny 10^6 neurons in size, yet possessing powerful olfactory and visual senses. The world is a dynamic, ever-changing environment and the ability to import a bee’s sensory features into a UAV or other type of drone could enable robots to navigate and perform tasks in the real world with more precision. The project cites border patrols, search and rescue, and weather forecasting as just a few possible mission types the finished bee drone could complete.

Bees also fulfill crucial pollination roles in the ecosystem, integral for ensuring sustainable food and other crop supplies. With honeybee populations rapidly diminishing in parts of the world, figuring out the nuances of the honeybee brain is more important than ever.

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