Aggressive bees may track future of flying robots

August 24, 2007

Angry bees that fly like mini-missiles could map the futures of unmanned aircraft and planetary explorer robots, thanks to new University of Queensland research backed by the Queensland Government.

Professor Mandyam Srinivasan, Professor of Visual Neuroscience at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute, will lead a $2.5 million project aiming to improve robot technology including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), through better understanding of bee behaviour. Professor Srinivasan is winner of the $1.25 million 2007 Smart State Premier's Fellowship, which is matched by funding from UQ.

“Professor Srinivasan's unique marriage of biology and engineering will help to put Queensland on the map at a time where enhanced surveillance and security are key priorities for governments and leaders around the world,” Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said when announcing the award today.

Professor Srinivasan and his team have spent more than two decades unlocking the mysteries of bee vision and navigation, and are now investigating how bee emotions, particularly aggression, can improve robotics.

Research of aggressive bees is unprecedented, he said. Worker bees are generally docile – until a guard bee protecting the hive emits an alarm hormone to signal the hive is endangered.

“Normal bees are fairly peaceful when they go out hunting for food, but the moment they get a whiff of alarm pheromone from a guard bee the entire colony mobilizes.

“The flight dynamic changes and they become like little fighter aircraft or missiles,” Professor Srinivasan said.

Bees' small but smart brains and nervous systems have evolved a “visuomotor” system that enables them to track moving objects with pinpoint accuracy.

Professor Srinivasan's research has previously been funded by NASA and now has funding from the US Airforce, and its practical potential is diverse.

It could be used for aerial coastal surveillance, weather monitoring and minerals exploration. The technology also has potential to reduce the risk to soldiers involved in peace-keeping and combat situations, who might one day have portable UAVs to send on reconnaissance missions.

The research could also lead to planetary explorer robots that are able to behave autonomously, in the same way as insects. This would be much more effective than robots controlled remotely from Earth, given a long signal delay between Mars and Earth, Professor Srinivasan said.

Professor Srinivasan is the second UQ researcher to be awarded the Smart State Premier's Fellowship, which is now in its second year. Professor Ian Frazer, Director of UQ's Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine, who co-invented the world's first vaccine for cervical cancer, became the first Fellow in 2006.

Source: UQ

Explore further: Learning about the birds and the bees helps aid flight

Related Stories

Bees dance the light fantastic

January 6, 2014

Honeybees use a pattern of light in the sky invisible to humans to direct one another to a honey source, scientists have found.

Bees' flight secrets revealed

September 11, 2013

Honeybees uses a combination of what they feel and see to streamline their bodies and gain maximum 'fuel efficiency' during flight, a world first study has found.

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.