Could humanity begin replacing animals in the biosphere that have gone extinct or are endangered? If so, it might happen not through genetic engineering or cloning, but by replacing them with robotic counterparts. Scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex in merry ol’ England are currently working on mapping the first accurate computer simulation of an average honey bee brain, with the hopes of one day uploading the simulation into a robotic honey bee.
As reported by io9.com, the program is called the “Green Brain Project,” and its central mission is to replace or at least assist real insects with robotic ones programmed to continue pollinating the Earth’s plant life. The researchers have recently received £1 million ($1,614,700 US to be exact) from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, as well as hardware donations from the NVIDIA Corporation, who will also provide the project with high-performance graphical processing units. In essence, the robotic honey bees will be made up of tiny supercomputers with a sophisticated piece of software inside.
The British researchers and engineers are developing a software version of the extremely complex mind of a honey bee. They are “training” the robotic bees with the instincts and functions of vision and smell. Once finished, the team will upload the functions into an automaton robotic honey bee. This will limit the robot’s ability to receive pre-programmed instructions, so it can “think” freely and truly interact with the world around them. The software will also make the robotic honey bee aware of the sights and odors of flowers so it can pollinate like real honey bees.
Along with the Harvard-led National Science Foundation-funded RoboBees project, the Green Brain Project is in the crucial stages of development in understanding artificial intelligence and the neuroscientific foundations of animal cognition. The buzz around campus is that the team believes they will have a working prototype by the year 2015, and they hope the robotic honey bee production model will be released into the wild soon after that.