Bees’ guidance strategy for avoiding crash landings
Landing safely is a difficult aspect of flight, because the rate of approach must be reduced to near zero at touchdown.
This is hard enough on horizontal surfaces, but even more challenging as inclination increases, i.e. when landing on surfaces of different orientation. Yet honey bees achieve this easily, hundreds of times per day.
To the amazement of engineers who had unsuccessfully tried lasers, radars, sonars and GPS technology in striving to design autonomous landing systems for flying robots, the bees’ guidance strategy is “surprisingly simple”.1,2 Experiments show that bees land safely by simply ensuring that the surface they are approaching expands at a constant rate within their field of vision.1 This is a form of optic flow monitoring,3 which we have noted before.4
Mandyam Srinivasan, professor of visual neuroscience at the University of Queensland, Australia, explained:
“If you come in [to land] at a constant speed, the image [of the landing strip] appears to expand faster as you get closer. But if you keep the rate of expansion of the image constant, you automatically slow down and by the time you make contact you’re moving at almost zero speed.”2
Mathematical modelling showed that the bees’ simple visual ‘autopilot’ technique worked on almost any type of surface—including walls and flowers—and did not need any information about airspeed or distance from destination.
“Why didn’t we think of this before?” lamented Professor Srinivasan.2 He said that robotic aircraft could soon be equipped to mimic the bee’s landing strategy using a simple, lightweight video camera. The image-only landing technique could also be applied to stealth military planes (no radar or sonar for an enemy to detect) and spacecraft (landing on other planets without GPS to guide them). However, it’s most doubtful that the computer required for this programming would be as tiny as a bee’s brain!
It’s surely self-evident that no ‘guidance strategy’ came about by itself.5 And the One who designed that of the bee has also given us the ultimate ‘guidance strategy’ to avoid the ultimate ‘crash landing’ (Colossians 1:16–20, Romans 10:9, Revelation 20:15).
References and notes
- Baird, E., Boeddeker, N., Ibbotson, M., and Srinivasan, M., A universal strategy for visually guided landing, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 110(46):18686–18691, 2013.
- Ross, J., Bees no drones when it comes to landing, theaustralian.com, 29 October 2013.
- Esch, H., Zhang, S., Srinivasan, M.V. and Tautz, J., Honeybee dances communicate distances measured by optic flow, Nature 411(6837):581–583, 31 May 2001.
- Sarfati, J., Can it bee? Creation 25(2):44–45, 2003; creation.com/bee.
- For many other examples of human engineers wanting to copy the Master Engineer’s designs in nature, see creation.com/biomimetics. Return to text.