The way that bees smell and see is being studied in a £1m project to produce a simulation of the insect's sensory systems. The simulated bee brain will then be used by a flying robot to help it make decisions about how to navigate safely.
Robots that emerge from the research project could help in search and rescue missions or work on farms mechanically pollinating crops. The researchers, which involves scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex, aims to create models of the neural systems in a bee's brain that helps it make sense of what it sees and smells.
The working model of the sensory systems will then be used in a robot to see if it can move around the world with the sophistication of a honey bee. Dr James Marshall, a computer scientist at the University of Sheffield co-ordinating the project, said simulating a brain was one of the "major challenges" of artificial intelligence.
Before now, he said, many of the attempts to recreate biological brains in silicon have focused on the cognitive systems found in humans, monkeys and mice.