A recent study published in the journal eLife has provided interesting insights into the decision-making ability of honeybees and how this knowledge can be used to create robots. The study, led by Professor Andrew Barron from Macquarie University in Sydney and a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield, explores the complex workings of the insect brain and sheds light on the evolution of human cognition.
Decoding the bee brain
The study presents a model of decision-making in bees and highlights the neural pathways in their brains that enable rapid decision-making. Despite being smaller than a sesame seed, bees’ brains are capable of making fast and accurate decisions beyond what humans can do. Prof. Barron explains, “The honeybee can make decisions faster and more accurately than we can. A robot programmed to do the bee’s job would need the support of a supercomputer.”
Limitations of current robotic technology
Prof. Barron goes on to talk about the limitations of modern autonomous robots, noting that they rely heavily on remote computing support. For example, drones require wireless communication with a data center to operate efficiently. However, this technological pathway prevents them from truly autonomously exploring distant neighborhoods. Professor Barron cites the example of NASA’s Mars rovers, which have traveled only 75 kilometers over the years of exploration.
Efficiency of bees in decision-making
To understand how bees make decisions, the researchers trained 20 bees to recognize different colored “flower discs” and observed their behavior in a controlled environment. The bees quickly learned to associate certain colors with either sugar syrup or quinine, a substance that is bitter to bees. When the bees were offered “flowers” containing only distilled water, they were videotaped and their decision-making process was analyzed.
The results showed that if the bees were sure the flower contained food, they made the decision to land on it in an average of 0.6 seconds. Similarly, if the bees were certain that the flower did not contain food, they also made the decision quickly. However, when unsure, bees took longer to make a decision, on average 1.4 seconds, reflecting the likelihood of food being found on a particular flower.
Implications for robot design
Based on their observations, the researchers built a computer model that simulates the bees’ decision-making process. Remarkably, the structure of the computer model is very similar to the physical layout of a bee’s brain. This discovery could pave the way for the creation of robots with the same decision-making abilities as bees, allowing them to navigate complex environments efficiently and autonomously.
Expert opinions and future prospects
Dr. HaDi MaBuDi, one of the researchers involved in the work, stresses the importance of understanding how bees make decisions. He states, “Bees are amazing creatures that have evolved over millions of years of evolution into effective decision makers. By studying their behavior, we can gain valuable insights into how to improve robot design.”
Experts in the field are also voicing their opinions on the potential impact of this research. Dr. Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, comments, “This study provides a glimpse into the decision-making abilities of honeybees and their implications for artificial intelligence. It emphasizes the importance of studying natural solutions to complex problems.”