Self-cleaning marine coatings that emulate the molecular make-up of shark skin, cracked glass that magically heals itself formulated from frog sputum, and good old Velcro inspired by the texture of seed pods — these and many more innovations prove that Mother Nature is the best source for new industrial IP. So it’s not surprising the Volvo now turns to nature for ideas on a new generation of “intelligent” automobiles.
Volvo’s brand centers around human safety, so wouldn’t it be amazing, Volvo engineers thought, if cars could be intelligent enough to avoid hitting pedestrians. A recent study by the World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 50 deaths world wide are related to an automobile, that’s 1.2 million traffic fatalities per year.
Jonas Ekmark, Preventive Safety Leader at Volvo Car Corporation said the idea for creating intelligent vehicles came from a recent study on the behavior of the African locust by Dr. Claire Rind of the Insect Vision Laboratory. The locust has an extraordinary ability to navigate in swarms of millions of locusts without a single locust bumping into another. “If we could trace how the locusts are able to avoid each other maybe we could program our cars not to hit pedestrians.”
During the study, Dr. Rind learned that visual input is instantly transmitted to the insect’s wing nerve cells, seemingly bypassing the brain. Dr. Rind calls this the Locust Principle. It is this Locust Principle that Volvo engineers sought to replicate.
The study was very revealing, but Volvo engineers declared that human-made computers are not match for the locust’s sophisticated sensory-input routing system:
“While some interesting ideas came from this study, we still have a many more years of research ahead to bring that small locust brain into our cars. We have found a lowly locust has man beat, at least for now.”