August 16, 2013
Researchers from the Center for Neuroscience Research at the University of Adelaide in Australia are using the example provided by dragonflies to perfect bug-sized robots that could be utilized in information gathering and surveillance operations.
By studying insects, a team headed by Steven Wiederman and David O’Carroll, scientists are focused on improving artificial vision for robotics and to develop neural prosthetics.
The advantage discovered with dragonflies is their specialized visual circuit that facilitates the ability to see moving objects in the dark.
Wiederman, lead author of the study said: “Most animals will use a combination of ON switches with other ON switches in the brain, or OFF and OFF, depending on the circumstances. The dragonfly, in contrast, uses a combination of both ON and OFF switches to see dark objects. It’s possible that other animals use this type of circuit as well, and this is just the first time scientists have discovered it. It allows dragonflies to respond to dark moving targets, like potential prey, much better than the researchers expected.”
Bother Carroll and Wiederman are working on creating a synthetic version of the dragonfly’s visual circuit to be added to autonomous robots that could mimic an insect’s movements.
Wiederman explained : “We’ve found this new visual circuit in the dragonfly, it’s possible that many other animals could also have this circuit for perceiving various objects.”
A project is underway to engineer the dragonfly’s visual capabilities for use in robots and Wiederman and Carroll are at the forefront.
Drones are being developed smaller and smaller to be able to fly like bugs in swarms, crawl like spiders and covertly survey targets or preform assassinations without detection.
Under the Air Vehicles Directorate branch of the US Air Force, research is being conducted to perfect remote-controlled micro air vehicles (MAVs) that are expected to “become a vital element in the ever-changing war-fighting environment and will help ensure success on the battlefield of the future.”
The future of war will include these “’unobtrusive, pervasive, and lethal” MAVs that can be dropped from an airborne plane into combat situations. The MAVs can be used for specific individual targeted assassinations or monitor a predetermined radius.
On Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, these drones are being developed that will be capable of having data imputed in real-time to facilitate decision-making with the expectation of providing an overall picture for the remote controllers.
These drones were designed to mimic insect flight patterns. Using high-frequency wings to hover over targets and being able to perch to save battery life, the drone is limited. However, technology is being developed to allow the drones to syphon electricity from wires and other power sources to be able to continue operations for days or weeks.
In June of 2011, the US military admitted to having drone technology so sophisticated that it could be the size of a bug.
In what is referred to as the “microaviary” on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, drone are in development and design to replicate the flight patterns of moths, hawks and other air-borne creatures of the natural world.
Greg Parker, aerospace engineer, explains: “We’re looking at how you hide in plain sight” for the purpose of carrying out espionage or kill missions.