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A robot with a bee brain

A peculiar image for a company that is in the business of artificial intelligence to support autonomous machines… Image credit: Opteran Technologies

At the turn of the century (2006) IBM launched a project to map the human brain as a starting point to create a “cognitive computer”. It was clear from the beginning that it was an impossible dream, yet the hope was that pursuing it would increase our knowledge of the computational structures of the brain to the point that it could be possible to use the knowledge to re-create those structures in a computer (or design a computer based on those structures).

Others focussed on scaled down brains as more pursuable alternative: insects’ brain. At Opteran Technologies the decision was to look at bees’ brain. It consists of “just” 1 million neurones, yet it empowers the bee with very sophisticated autonomy (environment awareness, image recognition, flight control…).

Now Opteran is offering off-the-shelf brains to power robots (watch the clip). They call this “natural intelligence on silicon”.

Insects may not have the kind of intelligence, or awareness, that we, and other animals, have but for sure they are very successful and better than our most advanced robots (in addition they use far less power!).

What I find interesting in this approach is that it demonstrates that intelligence, at least a significant subset of it, is about structures, there is nothing immaterial about it: if you can replicate the structure (and interactions) of a bee brain you get its functions.

The Opteran off-the-shelf brain consists of 2 video cameras (providing a 360° view) and a chip. The package weights just 30g (way more than a bee! It is equivalent to 265 bees…) and uses just 3W of power, way less than control systems used in robots.

Looks like there’s a lot that we can learn from Nature!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

One comment

  1. Thanks for this interesting post! Hive intelligence, like the interconnection of numerous single units with each other, or with a central computer, could be a practical way to ensure structured behavior of robots, without the need to have a sophisticated software directly integrated into the units. For this, also an interesting idea for science fiction, as there was one “Black Mirror”-episode about robotic bees.