The team will build models of the systems in the brain that govern a honey bee's vision and sense of smell. Using this information, the researchers aim to create the first flying robot able to sense and act as autonomously as a bee, rather than just carry out a pre-programmed set of instructions.
If successful, this project will meet one of the major challenges of modern science: building a robot brain that can perform complex tasks as well as the brain of an animal. Tasks the robot will be expected to perform, for example, will include finding the source of particular odours or gases in the same way that a bee can identify particular flowers.
It is anticipated that the artificial brain could eventually be used in applications such as search and rescue missions, or even mechanical pollination of crops.
Dr James Marshall, leading the £1 million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded project in Sheffield, said: "The development of an artificial brain is one of the greatest challenges in Artificial Intelligence. So far, researchers have typically studied brains such as those of rats, monkeys, and humans, but actually 'simpler' organisms such as social insects have surprisingly advanced cognitive abilities."