This could be the bee version of the robot apocalypse. Researchers from the universities of Sheffield and Sussex have installed a drone with a honeybee brain, and it flies much like a real-life bee, reports Discover. Fleets of these bee-like bots could one day take over for actual honeybees pollinating our crops.
The research is part of the Green Brain Project, which seeks to create artificial brains that are modeled after the brains of real-life creatures and install them into robots. The group's primary focus at this time is on the honeybee Apis mellifera.
For this experiment, a bee's brain was mapped and recreated using circuits that fire on and off in the same way that neural connections fire in bee brains. This artificial brain was then uploaded to a quadcopter drone, which was capable of successfully flying and navigating a corridor without bumping into anything. Researchers said the drone's flying behavior was eerily similar to how real honeybees fly.
Though it's a remarkable achievement, it's important to note that the researchers only mapped a part of a honeybee's brain, specifically the parts responsible for seeing and smelling. Mapping the entire cognition of a honeybee would be a complicated task, though researchers see this project as the first step in that direction.
"Bees and all other insects are miracles of engineering which we are nowhere near equaling," explained University of Sheffield’s James Marshall, to the BBC. "If we could even recreate a fraction of their abilities in a robot system then we would have made a tremendous advance."
Over time, Green Brain scientists want to reconstruct enough of a real-life honeybee brain so that the robots are capable of acting autonomously, with the ultimate aim of creating fleets of these drones to perform tasks just like real bees. For instance, given that populations of honeybees are dwindling worldwide, there may come a day when these bee-bots will be needed to pollinate our crops. Let's hope they're never equipped with stingers.
You can see video of the robot bee in action here: