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USAF Hopes to Equip Tomorrow’s Drones With Bug Vision

Written by on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

The Air Force has found a rather unorthodox source of inspiration for its next great spy project: bugs. They want to make drones that can do pretty much everything a bee can do. They’re not trying to replicate the size of insects (though drones are getting smaller and smaller with every passing year). In this case, the USAF wants drones that can see just as well as insects.

Wait a second – bugs have good eyesight? Aren’t falcons and eagles the ones with amazing vision? Well, birds of prey do have a reputation for eagle eyes (excuse the pun), but some insects actually have an edge over the rest of the animal kingdom. Bugs like bees and locusts can see polarized light wave patterns. That sounds a bit technical, but basically that just allows bugs to figure out which direction light is coming from. Human eyes aren’t equipped to see polarized light, so it’s hard to give you an idea what that would even look like. Luckily, polarized camera lenses give us a glimpse of enhanced buggy vision. In the picture below, the image on the right detects polarized light.


At best, humans can only really distinguish bright areas from darker areas. We’re able to determine that bright areas are the sources of light, but if we can’t see the actual light source then we’d be in a lot of trouble. Bees, on the other hand, have an easier time detecting the directionality of light. Think of it as like order valium standing in a river in order to tell which way the water is flowing.

The USAF wants to figure out how to take this enhanced vision and stick it into drones. That should dramatically improve a drone’s ability to navigate. Bug vision would be just one part of a multi-faceted navigation system that would enable to drone to observe, process, and make decisions all on its own.



Keep in mind that most drones nowadays either work via remote pilot, or they receive signals from satellites and make decisions based on that information. Pilots are problematic because that takes up a lot of manpower, and satellite signals can be disastrous because, as the University of Texas has proven, you can hack into a drone by meddling with its satellite signals.

Hopefully, bug vision will allow a drone to use light, such as light from cities or the sun, as a way to puzzle out its location and navigate accordingly. It’s crazy that flies would lead to the next major USAF breakthrough, but it wouldn’t be the first time that animal biology has inspired technology. Submarines mimic dolphins’ sonar, and fatigues replicate camouflage that’s common among reptiles. Still, it’s a bit funny to think that the USAF might have to collaborate with a team of experts that include aviation specialists from Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. and Entomologists (bug experts) for its next major drone project.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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