Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Robots with insect brains

Berlin researchers develop a robot that can learn to navigate through its environment guided by external stimuli. It operating principles? The brain of insects.

Autonomous robots that find their way through unfamiliar terrain? Not so distant future.

The robot in the arena. The small camera films the objects and passes the information to the neural network by wifi. The network processes the data and controls the movement direction of the robot.

Martin Paul Nawrot

Researchers at the Bernstein Fokus Neuronal Basis of Learning, the Bernstein Center Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin have developed a robot that perceives environmental stimuli and learns to react to them.

The scientists used the relatively simple nervous system of the honeybee as a model for its working principles. To this end, they installed a camera on a small robotic vehicle and connected it to a computer. The computer program replicated in a simplified way the sensorimotor network of the insect brain.

The input data came from the camera that—akin to an eye—received and projected visual information. The neural network, in turn, operated the motors of the robot wheels—and could thus control its motion direction.

The outstanding feature of this artifical mini brain is its ability to learn by simple principles. “The network-controlled robot is able to link certain external stimuli with behavioral rules,” says Professor Martin Paul Nawrot, head of the research team and member of the sub-project „Insect inspired robots: towards an understanding of memory in decision making“ of the Bernstein Focus. “Much like honeybees learn to associate certain flower colors with tasty nectar, the robot learns to approach certain colored objects and to avoid others.”

In the learning experiment, the scientists located the network-controlled robot in the center of a small arena. Red and blue objects were installed on the walls. Once the robot’s camera focused on an object with the desired color—red, for instance—, the scientists triggered a light flash. This signal activated a so-called reward sensor nerve cell in the artificial network. The simultaneous processing of red color and the reward now led to specific changes in those parts of the network, which exercised control over the robot wheels. As a consequence, when the robot “saw” another red object, it started to move toward it. Blue items, in contrast, made it to move backwards. “Just within seconds, the robot accomplishes the task to find an object in the desired color and to approach it,” explains Nawrot. “Only a single learning trial is needed, similar to experimental observations in honeybees.”

The current study has been carried out within an interdisciplinary collaboration between Professor Martin Paul Nawot’s research group “Neuroinformatics” (Institut of Biology), and the group “Intelligent Systems and Robotics” (Institute of Computer Science) headed by Raúl Rojas at Freie Universität Berlin. The scientists are now planning to expand their neural network by supplementing more learning principles. Thus, the mini brain will become even more powerful—and the robot more autonomous.

The Bernstein Focus Neuronal Basis of Learning, sub-project “Insect inspired robots: towards an understanding of memory in decision making” and the Bernstein Center Berlin are part of the National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience in Germany. With this funding initiative, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has supported the new discipline of Computational Neuroscience since 2004 with more than 170 million Euros. The network is named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835–1917).

Prof. Dr. Martin Paul Nawrot
Freie Universität Berlin
Institute of Biology – Neurobiology
Königin-Luise-Straße 1-3, room 201
14195 Berlin 

Tel: +49 (0)30 838 56692
Original publication:
L. I. Helgadóttir, J. Haenicke, T. Landgraf, R. Rojas & M. P. Nawrot (2013): Conditioned behavior in a robot controlled by a spiking neural network. 6th International IEEE/EMBS Conference on Neural Engineering (NER), 891 - 894

Weitere Informationen: Research group „Neuroinformatics“ headed by Martin Paul Nawrot Research group „Intelligent Systems and Robotics“ headed by Raúl Rojas Bernstein Center Berlin Freie Universität Berlin National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience

Mareike Kardinal | idw
Further information:

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Researchers from Kiel and Bochum develop new information storage device
12.10.2015 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht New tool expands tracking of personal data on the Web
12.10.2015 | Columbia University

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Light Touch May Help Animals and Robots Move on Sand and Snow

Having a light touch can make a hefty difference in how well animals and robots move across challenging granular surfaces such as snow, sand and leaf litter. Research reported October 9 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics shows how the design of appendages – whether legs or wheels – affects the ability of both robots and animals to cross weak and flowing surfaces.

Using an air fluidized bed trackway filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology systematically varied the...

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to build light rail vehicles for cities in the US

12.10.2015 | Press release

Siemens to add an additional 173 megawatts to Clyde onshore wind farm in Scotland

12.10.2015 | Press release

Scientists paint quantum electronics with beams of light

12.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>