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There’s a lot of buzz surrounding research conducted by a pair entomologists and the applications it could have on drones off all things. Vision researchers Emily Baird and Marie Dacke at the Department of Biology at Lund University in Sweden have been studying how insects navigate their way through dense areas of vegetation. Through their observations, they believe they have cracked a system insects utilize that could be applied to drones, making them more autonomous. Adapting this system would allow drones to fly of their own accord without any human control and to adjust their speed to their environment in order to avoid obstacles in their path.

So, what do insects have to do with all of this? Well, it turns out these little buggers rely on the intensity of light in order to navigate a path of least resistance, so to speak. Bees in particular are able to avoid other objects and find pockets within dense vegetation to pass safely through by detecting differences in light intensity. By assessing how much light is present and how strong of a presence there is, insects can determine the most efficient and effective paths of navigation that will cause them not to crash into something. “The system is so simple – it’s highly likely that other animals also use light in this way,” Emily Baird said. “The system is ideal for adapting to small, lightweight robots, such as drones.”

In order for this method of insect navigation to truly translate into an applicable method for drones, biological results from the insects and environments the two researchers have studied must be warped into digital systems and mathematical models that will enable drones to fly in dense, cluttered environments without human interaction. “Using light to navigate in complex environments is a universal strategy that can be applied by both animals and machines to detect openings and get them through safely,” Baird said. Forget bees – soon, swarms of drones could be buzzing and navigating their way through the world.

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