August 15, 2014

A biomimetic vision-based hovercraft accounts for bees' complex behaviour in various corridors

Here we present the first systematic comparison between the visual guidance behaviour of a biomimetic robot and those of honeybees flying in similar environments. We built a miniature hovercraft which can travel safely along corridors with various configurations. For the first time, we implemented on a real physical robot the 'lateral optic flow regulation autopilot', which we previously studied computer simulations. This autopilot inspired by the results of experiments on various species of hymenoptera consists of two intertwined feedback loops, the speed and lateral control loops, each of which has its own optic flow (OF) set-point. A heading-lock system makes the robot move straight ahead as fast as 69 cm s−1 with a clearance from one wall as small as 31 cm, giving an unusually high translational OF value (125° s−1). Our biomimetic robot was found to navigate safely along straight, tapered and bent corridors, and to react appropriately to perturbations such as the lack of texture on one wall, the presence of a tapering or non-stationary section of the corridor and even a sloping terrain equivalent to a wind disturbance.