Neuromimetic Robots inspired by Insect Vision

  • Franceschini Nicolas
  • Viollet Stéphane
  • Ruffier Franck
  • Serres Julien

  • Biorobotics
  • Vision
  • Flies
  • Photoreceptors
  • Optic flow
  • Motion detection
  • Motion detecting neurones
  • Visuo-motor control systems
  • Bionics
  • Biomimetics

COMM

Equipped with a less-than-one-milligram brain, insects fly autonomously in complex environments without resorting to any Radars, Ladars, Sonars or GPS. The knowledge gained during the last decades on insects' sensory-motor abilities and the neuronal substrates involved provides us with a rich source of inspiration for designing tomorrow's self-guided vehicles and micro-vehicles, which are to cope with unforeseen events on the ground, in the air, under water or in space. Insects have been in the business of sensory-motor integration for several 100 millions years and can therefore teach us useful tricks for designing agile autonomous vehicles at various scales. Constructing a "biorobot'' first requires exactly formulating the signal processing principles at work in the animal. It gives us, in return, a unique opportunity of checking the soundness and robustness of those principles by bringing them face to face with the real physical world. Here we describe some of the visually-guided terrestrial and aerial robots we have developed on the basis of our biological findings. These robots (Robot Fly, SCANIA, FANIA, OSCAR, OCTAVE and LORA) all react to the optic flow (i.e., the angular speed of the retinal image). Optic flow is sensed onboard the robots by miniature vision sensors called Elementary Motion Detectors (EMDs). The principle of these electro-optical velocity sensors was derived from optical/electrophysiological studies where we recorded the responses of single neurons to optical microstimulation of single photoreceptor cells in a model visual system: the fly's compound eye. Optic flow based sensors rely solely on contrast provided by reflected (or scattered) sunlight froth any kind of celestial bodies in a given spectral range. These nonemissive, powerlean sensors offer potential applications to manned or unmanned aircraft. Applications can also be envisaged to spacecraft, from robotic landers and rovers to asteroid explorers or space station dockers, with interesting prospects as regards reduction in weight and consumption.