Lev Bely, 17.02.2013 21:37
Japanese researchers from the University of Tokyo made male silkmoths (Bombyx mori) drive two-wheeled vehicle by distributing synthetic pheromone bombykol in a wind tunnel. Naturally bombykol is released by female silkmoths to attract mates. During the experiment males were fixed, namely glued to a polystyrene ball that functioned like a trackball directing the vehicle. The task was not only to track the pheromone but also to reach the other end of the tunnel within 210 secs, so that neither wall of the chamber would be hit.
B. mori males did great performing as good drivers. Then the researchers made the task more challengeable adding some obstacles like covering the moths’ visual fields (84.2 percent success rate), introducing a turn bias, which increased the forward rotation of the motor on one side, and the backward rotation of the motor on the other side, causing the vehicle to respond unevenly to the moth’s direction (80.8%), and even creating 200—600 ms time delays causing lapse between the moth’s movement and the vehicle’s response. The very time delays didn't confuse the males, though the combination of a time delay and a turn bias appeared quite a challenge.
The end goal of the experiment is a fully-autonomous robot with a “brain” that mimics the silkmoth's sensory perception. The trials showed that B. mori's sensory system is very quick, responsive and adaptive. The test results will be used for creating such a robot, and the information about sensitivity and processing time will be as well useful in deciding the types and numbers of sensors to include.
Someday such “silkmoth” robot may serve as a serious alarm system for chemical spills or device of the kind.
The research published in the March issue of Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-3190.
Ars Technica, http://arstechnica.com
Photo: male silkmoth drives two-wheeled vehicle, Ando, et. al., http://arstechnica.com
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