Scientists from the UK Universities of Sheffield and Sussex have been collaborating on an ambitious project to produce the first accurate computer models of a honey bee brain. The project is designed to help us advance our understanding of Artificial Intelligence, and how animals think. The UK team will build models of the systems in the brain that govern a honey bee’s vision and sense of smell – and then they will use the information to create the first flying robot able to sense and act as autonomously as a bee.

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In the past, most flying robots follow pre-designated instructions, but the UK team aims to make sure that their robot brain will be able to perform complex tasks such as finding the source of particular odors or gases in the same way that a bee can identify particular flowers. It is hoped that if the research is successful, the technology could be used in applications such as search and rescue missions, or even mechanical pollination of crops.

The leader of the project, which is called ‘Green Brain’, Dr James Marshall said: “The development of an artificial brain is one of the greatest challenges in Artificial Intelligence. So far, researchers have typically studied brains such as those of rats, monkeys, and humans, but actually ‘simpler’ organisms such as social insects have surprisingly advanced cognitive abilities.”

The team have been using hardware donated by NVIDIA Corporation. These accelerators provide a very efficient way of performing the massive calculations needed to simulate a brain using a standard desktop PC, rather than a large, expensive supercomputing cluster.

Green Brain’s researchers anticipate that developing a model of a honey bee brainwill offer a more accessible method of driving forward our knowledge of how a brain’s cognitive systems work, leading to advances in understanding animal and human cognition. “Because the honey bee brain is smaller and more accessible than any vertebrate brain, we hope to eventually be able to produce an accurate and complete model that we can test within a flying robot,” said Dr Marshall.

“Not only will this pave the way for many future advances in autonomous flying robots, but we also believe the computer modelling techniques we will be using will be widely useful to other brain modelling and computational neuroscience projects,” added Dr Nowotny.

+ University of Sheffield

via TG Daily

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