Can nature help solve some of our biggest challenges in autonomous systems and data processing?

Posted on: 07/05/2019

KTN’s new Nature Inspired Solutions Special Interest Group (NIS SIG) kicked off with an event looking at NIS for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.


Einstein said “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”. That famous quote sums up the purpose of KTN’s new Nature Inspired Solutions Special Interest Group, which started with an event looking at NIS for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). Over the next two years, the SIG will convene people from industry and academia to learn about technologies and to find solutions for the big challenges in industry.

This event mainly focussed on motion tracking and visual control of insects and how they work together and cooperate for a common goal. Are there any lessons from ants, bees and other insects that could be applied to CAVs which could help make our streets safer?

Prof. Holger Krapp and his team at Imperial College London are researching how insects – in particular flies – use their visual sensors to provide information to help them control their gaze and flight. “What we know about insects is that they have fantastic panoramic vision which is extremely helpful to assess which way they have to compensate or rotate their head during flight so that it is always aligned with the external horizon.” The team have recorded the electrical activity of sensors in the fly brain and hope to use this data to implement it on technical systems like drones, terrestrial and space robotics, and improve autonomous navigation and guidance.

Dr Alex Cope is Chief Technology Officer for Opteran Technologies – a new start-up company which has analysed the neurobiology of the honeybee to create an algorithm that captures how bees solve optic flow. “We work with bio-inspired technology. The idea is to take existing solutions that are found in nature and reproduce them in a technological form. Nature, through the course of evolution, has developed incredibly robust and efficient solutions to many of the problems we want to solve for autonomy and data processing.”

We also caught up with Dr Amanda Prorok from the Prorok Lab at the University of Cambridge. Her work involves the design of algorithms that coordinate mobile autonomous robots to create collectively intelligent systems. “Our inspiration is cooperation. We see how nature can coordinate large groups of animals in very efficient, smooth and elegant ways. If we look at traffic today, we’re not quite there yet.” She says one of the biggest challenges for CAVs is the ‘mechanics of collaboration’. How do we create protocols so that vehicles from different manufacturers using different communications technologies can still talk to each other and make decisions?

This event hails the start of a two-year work programme for the NIS SIG, which will initially focus on the application of NIS across transport, infrastructure and energy. The SIG will build a community (online and offline), organise networking events, showcases and raise awareness by sharing best practice and success stories. A landscape map and a commercial opportunity report will be created to help accelerate growth and market uptake in the relevant sectors.

Watch the highlights from the event

Next steps

Sign up to the NIS SIG to:

  • Discover how nature inspired engineering can help you solve some of your biggest challenges.
  • Seek support from the NIS community if you are a ‚Äòchallenge holder‚Äô.
  • Showcase your research and demonstrate your nature inspired engineering solutions.
  • Broaden your network and make meaningful connections leading to collaboration opportunities.

Contact our NIS SIG lead Monika Dunkel if you are already working on Nature Inspired Engineering problems, if you have potential solutions or simply want to find out more; you can also join our LinkedIn Group.

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