Charlotte Mawn



There’s been a bit of a buzz around the use of our fuzzy insect friends and their possible uses in a plethora of forward thinking science, from laying the foundations in building super A.I. robots, to detecting drugs and explosives.

Sussex University researchers have been piloting a new one-million pound research project which works on software that replicates the neural circuits responsible for sight and smell in bees. The ultimate aim is to combine these computer models with the best in high performance generators, funded courtesy of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. This impressive symbiotic relationship, between fundamental neuroscience principles and computer programming, could also prove instrumental in the development of artificial intelligence.

Dr Nowotny, leading the research at Sussex believes this: “we expect that in many areas of science this technology will eventually replace the classic supercomputers we use today and pave the way for many future advances in autonomous flying robots. We also believe the computer modelling techniques we will be using will be widely useful to other brain modelling and computational neuroscience projects.”
The real test these scientists face is to build a computer software program fast and efficient enough to operate a large, fully functioning autonomous robot. When completed, the robot will be able to detect odours, gases, and hopefully respond accordingly without external programming. The scientific ramifications of this unbelievable research could include super-efficient pollination (a great tool for mass food production) and help out in search and rescue missions.
Bees are especially pertinent to this project as research into the olfactory centre of bees has suggested that they are truly unbeatable in their smelling abilities. They may be more suited to assisting crime and security than their canine counterparts. The infamous sniffer dog, could perhaps be redundant as they are far more costly and temperamental than bees.

In a series of pavlovian training method tests, conducted at the Los Alamos Natural Laboratory, they discovered that the bee’s olfactory system is so finely tuned they can detect a human by his unique smell against other research volunteers.

Similarly, drugs and explosives have been detected and, according to the studies, the bees are faster learners than dogs. A honey bee can be taught odour differentiation in just six seconds. It is this remarkable speed that is enticing scientists to create sensory robots based on the bee brain. You’d surely agree that a swarm of robot insects smelling out explosives is the bee’s knees, or should we say: the bee’s nose.
Understanding the mechanisms involved will undoubtedly enable the project at Sussex to make advanced breakthroughs in cognition and robotics. By determining how sensory inputs are translated into cognitive responses researchers will make a big leap in understanding how to make artificial intelligence.

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