Oct. 1, 2012 at 3:26 PM ET
Flying robots of the future may have the smarts of bees, a level of artificial intelligence with potential applications ranging from search and rescue missions to mechanical pollination of crops.
The first step in the Green Brain project underway at a pair of British universities is to develop accurate computer models of the neural systems that govern honey bee vision and sense of smell.
Such smarts would, eventually, allow the team to build a flying robot that can sense and act as autonomously as a bee instead of carrying out a set of pre-programmed instructions.
The $1.3 million project is led by James Marshall at the University of Sheffield in collaboration with the University of Sussex.
According to a news release, understanding the brain of the socially complex honey bee is an alternative approach to artificial intelligence research, where other teams have focused on the brains of rats, monkeys and humans.
The bee brain is smaller and more accessible than any vertebrate brain, Marshall explained.
In addition to building intelligent, autonomous robots, the research may lead to discoveries about what is causing wild honey bee populations around the world to plummet.
Or, at least, contribute to the development of mechanical pollinators such as the Robobees project at Harvard University.