A North­eastern Uni­ver­sity neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist will bring his exper­tise in animal robotics to a five-​​year, $10 mil­lion National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) Expe­di­tions research project to develop robobees that mimic the com­munal feeding behavior of bee colonies.

Biology pro­fessor Joseph Ayers will col­lab­o­rate with a team of researchers from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity to develop micro flying robots with the tech­nology to emu­late the bees’ brain, body and col­lec­tive behavior.

The project will draw on the knowl­edge of com­puter sci­en­tists, engi­neers and biol­o­gists to con­struct an elec­tronic ner­vous system, a super­vi­sory archi­tec­ture and a high-​​energy source to power the inno­v­a­tive robots.

This project will inte­grate the efforts and exper­tise of a diverse team of inves­ti­ga­tors to create a system that far tran­scends the sum of its parts,” said Ayers, who is a prin­cipal researcher at Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center. “We expect sub­stan­tial advances in basic sci­ence at the inter­sec­tion of these seem­ingly dis­parate dis­ci­plines to result from this effort.”

Inspired by the biology of the bee and the insect’s colo­nial behavior, the project aims to advance minia­ture robotics and the design of com­pact high-​​energy power sources; spur inno­va­tions in ultra-​​low-​​power com­puting and elec­tronic “smart” sen­sors that mediate bio­mimetic con­trol; and refine coor­di­na­tion algo­rithms to manage mul­tiple, inde­pen­dent machines.

Ayers is widely known for his work in bio­mimetics— the sci­ence of adapting the con­trol sys­tems found in nature to inform design of engi­neered sys­tems to solve real-​​world problems—including the devel­op­ment of RoboLob­ster and Robo­Lam­prey. The autonomous, bio­mimetic under­water robotic models emu­late the oper­a­tions of the ani­mals’ ner­vous sys­tems using an elec­tronic con­troller based on nonlinear,dynamical models of neu­rons and synapses.

Ani­mals have evolved to occupy every envi­ron­mental niche where we would hope to operate robots, save outer space,” said Ayers. “They pro­vide proven solu­tions to prob­lems that con­found even the most sophis­ti­cated robots, and our chal­lenge is to cap­ture these per­for­mance advan­tages in engi­neered devices.”

Ayers will work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Harvard’s School of Engi­neering and Applied Sci­ences, the Wyss Insti­tute for Bio­log­i­cally Inspired Engi­neering and CentEye, Inc., funded by the NSF’s Expe­di­tions in Com­puting pro­gram. Estab­lished last year by the NSF Direc­torate for Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and Engi­neering (CISE), the pro­gram pro­vides funding for researchers to pursue ambi­tious, fun­da­mental projects that hold the promise to rede­fine the future of com­puting and infor­ma­tion. For more infor­ma­tion about the Expe­di­tions project, visit http://​robobees​.seas​.har​vard​.edu/.

For more infor­ma­tion about Pro­fessor Ayers’ research, visit http://​www​.neu​rotech​nology​.neu​.edu.