Future Flying Robots May Get Inspiration From Honeybee Flight Secrets
September 11, 2013

Future Flying Robots May Get Inspiration From Honeybee Flight Secrets

[ Watch the Video: Honeybees Are Buzzing Into Robotics ]

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have found new information detailing how honeybees are able to streamline their bodies during flight, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.

Study researchers speculated that the information could be used in the development of flying insect-like robots.

Honeybees often have to travel very long distances with only a small amount of nectar, so they have to be as ‘fuel-efficient’ as possible,” said Mandyam Srinivasan, a neuroscientist at the University of Queensland in Australia. “They achieve this by raising their abdomen to reduce drag so they can fly at high speeds while using less energy.”

Previous studies have found that honeybees use their eyes to get a sense of their airspeed and adjust their abdomens accordingly.

“When we trick a honeybee into thinking that it’s ‘flying’ forward by running background images past its eyes, the bee will move its body into a flying position despite being tethered,” said Gavin Taylor, a graduate student working with Srinivasan.

“The faster we move the images, the higher it lifts its abdomen to prepare for rapid flight,” Taylor added. “However, if we blow wind directly at them without running any images, the bee raises its abdomen for only a little while. This suggests that they rely on their vision to regulate their flights.”

Researchers working on the new study expanded on this previous research by manipulating the airflow in a bee’s environment.

“We created a headwind and ran background images simultaneously,” Taylor said. “We found that when the fan is turned on, the bee raises its abdomen much higher than when the fan is switched off.”

“This shows that while bees need to see to adjust their abdomens during flight, their streamlining response is also driven by airflow,” Taylor added.

Further investigations revealed that the honeybees sense airflow speed with their antenna.

“As soon as we immobilized the bee’s antenna, its streamlining response was reduced as it relied only on its eyes,” Srinivasan said. “The bee uses its antenna to do many wonderful things – it tastes food with it, senses the vibration in the air when other bees dance, and now we know they also use it to regulate their flights by detecting wind speed.”

According to Taylor, the use of several senses helps bees to respond more quickly during flight to changes in their environment.

“For instance, their antennae can detect a change in the airflow, such as sudden gusts of wind, allowing them to adjust their bodies and speed,” he said. “This is something that their vision can’t do as their eyes might not ‘see’ the wind.”

Srinivasan said that, in addition to providing new insight into the behavior of bees, the study’s findings could also be used in the development of bee-like flying robots.

“As we start to build more robot aircraft, such as ‘robotbees’ with tiny flapping wings, a better understanding of how these creatures fly takes us one step further towards perfecting these flying machines,” Srinivasan said.

“For instance, we can place battery packs on small unmanned flying vehicles that mimic the bee’s abdomen,” he added. “The vehicle can streamline itself when performing long distance, cruising flights – or stabilise itself by letting the ‘abdomen’ droop when needed.”