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After studying how insects navigate through dense vegetation, a new system is in development that can help flying robots maneuver through difficult surroundings.

By adapting the system to drones, they can be made to adjust their speed to their surroundings and fly on their own, completely without human intervention and control, said researchers at Lund University in Sweden.

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Among other things, research conducted by vision researchers Emily Baird and Marie Dacke at the Department of Biology in Lund, shows how bees that fly through dense forests assess light intensity to avoid other objects and find holes in the vegetation to enable them to navigate safely.

The ability to avoid collisions is crucial to animals and insects that live in environments with many obstacles.

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Lund researchers’ results show that insects, such as the green orchid bee in the Panama rainforests, apply a strategy where they assess the light intensity to navigate quickly and effectively without crashing.

They end up guided by the intensity of the light that penetrates the holes in leaves to determine whether a particular hole is sufficiently large for them to fly through safely without hitting the edges.

“The system is so simple. It’s highly likely that other animals also use light in this way. The system is ideal for adapting to small, light-weight robots, such as drones. My guess is that this will become a reality within five to ten years”, Baird said.

Before it is realized, the biological results from the rainforest must be transformed into mathematical models and digital systems that make it possible for robots to fly in complicated environments completely without human intervention.

“Using light to navigate in complex environments is a universal strategy that can be applied by both animals and machines to detect openings and get through them safely. Really, the coolest thing is the fact that insects have developed simple strategies to cope with difficult problems for which engineers have still to come up with a solution,” Baird said.

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