Scientists Study How Bee Brains Can Improve Flying Robots

October 26, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. navigate (v.) 
[nav-i-geyt] – to travel through or find the correct way to get to a desired place
Example: The man’s wife helped him navigate through the confusing city streets.

2. sensory system (n.) [sen-suh-ree] [sis-tuhm] – the part of the body that interprets information received from the body’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin
Example: The body’s sensory system lets a person taste, smell, hear, and see things around him.

3. reproduce (v.) [ree-pruh-doos, -dyoos– to make something that is like something else; to create a copy of something
Example: In the film Jurassic Park, scientists successfully reproduced dinosaurs.

4. equip (v.) [ih-kwip– to add something to an object or person
Example: Honda equipped their new ASIMO robot with legs that can walk on unstable surfaces.

5. mindlessly (adv.) [mahynd-lis-ly] – without thinking
Example: Some factory workers have been replaced by robots because the jobs can be done mindlessly.

Read the text below.

Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex in the UK are studying bees and how they sense and navigate through their environments. The scientists are hoping to copy the bees’ sensory systems for use in flying robots.

In the past, scientists have tried reproducing the brains of mice, monkeys, and humans in silicon.  However, it is only recently that scientists have become interested in the brains of social insects such as bees. Dr. James Marshall, a computer scientist from the University of Sheffield, says the thinking abilities of simple organisms like social insects are surprisingly advanced.

Bees have been known to have excellent ability in finding their way home. When flying, they adjust their route depending on the position of the sun. Bees’ brains are also smaller and easier for scientists to recreate artificially.

Instead of traditional supercomputers, graphics cards will be used for the project, as graphics cards are smaller and much cheaper.

The completed artificial bee brain will be equipped to a flying robot. The robot will go through several tests for scientists to see whether it can respond and adjust to a changing environment, just as real bees do.

Scientists hope that with the new brain, the robot will no longer complete programmed tasks mindlessly, but will be able to make decisions based on what it senses in the environment.

If successful, the £1-million ($1.6-million) bee brain project could make robots capable of  finding and rescuing people in danger. The robots could also help farmers by mechanically spreading pollen on crops.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Do you agree that a robot should be able to think for itself or make its own decisions? Please explain your answer.
·         What actions or work would you like future robots to do?

Discussion B

·         Why is it important for us to continue studying nature?
·         What animal skill or natural phenomenon would like to know more about? What makes that skill or phenomenon interesting?


October 26, 2012