MOTHS can assist scientists in developing decision-making programs for autonomous drones

Flight patterns from MOTHS can assist scientists in developing decision-making programs for autonomous drones to help them navigate in unfamiliar environments

  • American researchers attached tobacco shawk moths to metal rods and torque sensors
  • The moths were then studied as they flew through a bunch of rays of light
  • Moths use a flexible navigation strategy that works best in dense forests
  • Using the collected data, the team wrote a program that could guide drones

Moth flight patterns could assist scientists in developing decision-making programs for autonomous drones to help them navigate in unfamiliar environments.

Researchers led by the state of Washington analyzed how moths flew through a simulated bunch of light rays to make a drone navigation model for testing.

They discovered that the moths navigation strategy is very flexible and most suitable for dense forests – an adaptation that has probably evolved in response to their habitat.

Using real data from animal flight paths, the researchers said they should be able to program drones to navigate autonomously through messy environments.

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Moth flight patterns can help scientists develop decision-making programs for autonomous drones to help them navigate in unfamiliar environments

Moth flight patterns can help scientists develop decision-making programs for autonomous drones to help them navigate in unfamiliar environments

Biologist Thomas Daniel from the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues mounted eight tobacco hawk moths – or Mantuca sexta – on the end of metal rods connected to a torque meter.

They then projected a moving ‘forest’ scene of light rays for each moth – through which the moths navigated.

The team gathered data about the paths each moth took through the virtual forest and used this to create a mathematical model to describe how they navigated.

Professor Daniel and his colleagues then took this model and turned it into a decision-making program that could be used to guide the flight of a drone.

The drone guidance program was tested in both the same simulated forest and in different forest configurations with different densities of trees.

Based on their models, the researchers concluded that tobacco butterfly moths navigate by relying on the pattern created by the apparent movement of objects caused by their flight – which the team calls “optical flow.”

“We should not be surprised by these results,” the team wrote in their paper.

“Optical power has been shown to be a key factor that underlies control of flight responses in insects.”

Biologist Thomas Daniel from the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues mounted eight tobacco hawk moths - or Mantuca sexta - on the end of metal rods connected to a torque meter. Pictured, an artist's impression of a hawk moth during the flight

Biologist Thomas Daniel from the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues mounted eight tobacco hawk moths - or Mantuca sexta - on the end of metal rods connected to a torque meter. Pictured, an artist's impression of a hawk moth during the flight

Biologist Thomas Daniel from the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues mounted eight tobacco hawk moths – or Mantuca sexta – on the end of metal rods connected to a torque meter. Pictured, an artist’s impression of a hawk moth during the flight

The flight program that the researchers have optimized for drones, on the other hand, performed about 60 percent better in the simulated tests.

This is because the program also based its navigation decisions on information about the exact location of objects in the immediate vicinity.

Despite this, the researchers found that the moth’s navigation strategy was very flexible and performed well in different forest layouts – and best in dense forests, probably thanks to the dense forests that the moths normally inhabit.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS Computational biology.

HOW CAN DRONES BE USED TO ACCELERATE FAST DELIVERIES?

Impatient shoppers will be happy to hear that Amazon drones can significantly speed up the speed at which deliveries can be made.

The plan is for Amazon’s PrimeAir service to ultimately deliver small packages weighing up to 2.27 kg in 30 minutes or less.

Amazon received UK approval for three new types of testing, including flying drones that are no longer in sight of their operators in rural and suburbs.

With the other two, one person has different, highly automated drones and test equipment operated to enable the drones to identify and avoid obstacles.

During the test, the drones are only allowed to fly at a height of 122 m and stay away from airports at airports.

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