Tiny insect brains, the sized of a pin-head, are being used as inspiration to develop the next generation of self-driving cars.
Opteran, a spin-out of the University of Sheffield, has received £2.1m in funding to create computer chips modelled on a bee brain.
The insects have brains that are less than two cubic millimetres in volume, about 0.0002pc that of a human brain. However, they can travel for up to five miles and still find their way home.
They do this by measuring distance through optic flow, or how objects move across our visual field. Opteran has been working to reverse engineer this technique in a bid to replicate it in 'silicon brains' that can be implanted into autonomous vehicle.
So far, a team at Sheffield University working alongside Opteran has modelled 25 per cent of the honeybee brain by attaching tiny radio transponders to the backs and heads of hundreds of honeybees and bumblebees and monitored them as they zip through the Hertfordshire countryside.
After mapping their movements on a three-dimensional digital reconstruction of the fly zone, they have been able to work out what decisions the bees made during their journeys, and how they altered their courses.
They now plan to take recordings of neurons when the bees are navigating in a virtual reality chamber with panoramic scenes to learn more about their decision making.
Using the funding, Opteran plans to create an algorithm based on the research and to produce a 360-degree camera that can be used to help cars and drones navigate.
The business has raised the funding from high-profile technology investors including IQ Capital with Episode1, Join and Seraphim Capital.
David Rajan, Opteran's chief executive, said: "We are confident that Natural Intelligence will become highly sought after as the way to deliver lightweight, low-cost and effective autonomy in a radically new way that will open up huge growth opportunities for robotics."
Using algorithms and computer chips modelled on the brains of insects has become an attractive proposal for researchers seeking to develop miniature systems to control cars and drones.
Last year, the US government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency published a call for proposals for insect brain-like systems to control robotics, saying that it planned to grant $1m (£749,000) to the leading proposal.
"Nature has forced on these small insects drastic miniaturization and energy efficiency, some having only a few hundred neurons in a compact form-factor, while maintaining basic functionality," a document published by the agency read.
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