Can a bee brain control a helicopter?

As part of our effort to build a robotic bee, we’re trying to learn how these guys control their flight:

We come up with hypotheses as to how a bee’s brain controls its behavior and the next step is to translate those ideas onto this guy:

A few months ago I wrote about the toy helicopters that we’re using as part of this process. Since some members of our team are still working on getting RoboBee flight ready, we use helicopters as a stand in for the robotic bee. That way we can test out our simulated bee brain on the helicopter and see how well it works before the Robobee body is ready. Here’s a picture of a toy helicopter that we’ve set up with two optical flow sensors and a compass:

Optical flow is the movement of the visual world across the eye and animals use this information to navigate and to keep moving along a straight path. (More on this and how our robots use this information in a future post.) All those sensors and electronics you see in the photo were a bit too heavy for the helicopter to fly with so we’ve decided to upgrade. Here’s the old helicopter next to the massive new one:

The big guy will be taking off soon with our simulated bee brain. I’ll post an update about how it goes and to let you know when it’s safe to walk around Boston without fear of getting buzzed by an oversized toy helicopter.

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