Researchers with the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex recently announced plans to build a computer model of the honey bee brain that would eventually pilot “an autonomous flying robot.” According to an October 2, 2012, press release, the “Green Brain” project aims to produce a tiny flying robot able to sense and act like a live bee for applications ranging from mechanical pollination to search and rescue missions. To this end, Green Brain will rely on high-performance desktop computer processors known as GPU accelerators rather than more expensive supercomputer clusters.

“NVIDIA’s GPU accelerators are an important part of the project, as they allow us to build faster models than ever before,” said Thomas Nowotny from the University of Sussex’s Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics. “We expect that in many areas of science this technology will eventually replace the classic supercomputers we use today and pave the way for many future advances in autonomous flying robots. We also believe the computer modeling techniques we will be using will be widely useful to other brain modeling and computational neuroscience projects.”

At the same time, scientists hope to provide insight into bees’ highly-developed olfactory sense while advancing the field of artificial intelligence. “The development of an artificial brain is one of the greatest challenges in Artificial Intelligence,” said University of Sheffield project leader James Marshall. “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.” See, October 2, 2012.