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Insects vs Robots: A Study in Efficient Navigation

Insects vs Robots: A Study in Efficient Navigation

Have you ever wondered as to why insects, with their tiny brains, are able to navigate so efficiently? A recent investigation by engineers at the University of Groningen provides some valuable insights. These insights could prove helpful in developing more energy-efficient robots.

Insects are impressively capable when it comes to navigation, despite their small brain size, equivalent to a pinhead. They can move through tiny openings and dodge obstacles with ease. The way they accomplish such feats is incredibly fascinating and can be a significant resource to advance energy-efficient computing.

Renowned physicist Elisabetta Chicca from the University of Groningen has made important strides in this area with her latest project which involves an insect-like robot. The main challenge here is to analyze the incoming images from eyes and make the corresponding adjustments in movement, a task even more difficult given the constant motion of objects.

Insects seemingly perform navigation tasks flawlessly, making straight line movement appear simple, but reality proves much more complex. Chicca suggests, just like insects, if resources are in short supply, complex problems could be simplified by adjusting behavior.

Under Chicca's guidance, a PhD student named Thorben Schoepe designed a model to explore the neural mechanism that drives insect behavior. He also built a small robot that uses this model to navigate. For this, they collaborated with another neurobiologist, Martin Egelhaaf from Bielefeld University, whose expertise was invaluable in understanding insects' computational principles.

The model created by Schoepe rests on one basic principle - steering towards the area with minimal apparent motion. This model, when applied, showed behavior similar to insects, indicating the effectiveness of the design. "The model is so good", Chicca concludes, "that once you set it up, it will perform in all kinds of environments, which makes it a remarkable solution."

While robots being able to navigate in realistic environments isn't a novelty, what sets this model apart is the insights it enables into how insects do things more efficiently. There is a lot to learn from such an efficient system that’s inherent in their brains rather than being learned over time, as we humans tend to do.

These learnings could make way for the development of more efficient computers. Chicca's research group has previously developed a chip with a small surface area less than that of a keyboard key. In future, she aspires to incorporate these specific insect behaviors into the chip, thereby yielding considerably smaller, specific hardware that is also energy-efficient.

Elisabetta Chicca is an important part of the Groningen Cognitive Systems and Materials Center (CogniGron). Their mission is to generate materials-centered systems paradigms for cognitive computing through modeling and learning at all levels - from materials that can learn to devices, circuits, and algorithms.

Disclaimer: The above article was written with the assistance of AI. The original sources can be found on ScienceDaily.