Honeybee: vision and timing

Friday 6th August 2010
“Catadioptric” wide-angle lens, it is made up of a mirror that reflects the light from a wide area (catoptric), and lenses that focus this light on the sensor of a small camera (dioptric). Courtesy: http://www.hojohnlee.com/weblog/archives/2006/12/15/no-more-fisheye-a-better-security-camera-lens/

Despite tiny brains, bees have remarkable navigation capabilities based on their vision. New research has recreated a light-weight imaging system mimicking a honeybee’s field of view, which could change the way mobile robots and small flying vehicles are built.

Bioinspiration & Biomimetics: "Mimicking Honeybee Eyes with a 280◦ FOV Catadioptric Imaging System" is referenced as available.

The researchers, led by Wolfgang Stürzl (right)  from the Center of Excellence 'Cognitive Interaction Technology' at Bielefeld University, Germany, have built an artificial bee eye, complete with fully functional camera, to shed light on the insects’ complex sensing, processing and navigational skills.

Consisting of a light-weight mirror-lens combination attached to a USB video camera, the artificial eye manages to achieve a field of vision comparable to that of a bee. In combining a curved reflective surface that is built into acrylic glass with lenses covering the frontal field, the bee eye camera has allowed the researchers to take unique images showing the world from an insect’s viewpoint.

In the future, the researchers hope  to include UV to fully reflect a bee’s colour vision, which is important to honeybees for flower recognition and discrimination and also polarisation vision, used for orientation. They hope to incorporate models of the subsequent neural processing stages.

As the researchers write, “Despite ... limitations of our model of the spatial resolution of the honeybees compound eyes, we are confident that it is useful for many purposes, eg. for the simulation of bee-like agents in virtual environments and, in combination with presented imaging system, for testing bee-inspired visual navigation strategies on mobile robots.”

Flexible dynamic time keeping 
In addition to its enhanced vision, honeybee has a time-keeping that is accurate to about 20 minutes, a daily diary can include as many as nine appointments — say, 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees’ It can do this because it has a circadian clock that is reset daily to run in time with the solar cycle.

Honeybees at a centimeter or so long with tiny brains, live by sets of instructions that are familiar to computer programmers as subroutines – do this until the stop code, then into the next subroutine, and so on.

They have an innate ability to work out the location of a food source from its position in relation to the sun, even on cloudy days by reading the pattern of the polarization of the light, and pass this information to other bees. In the dark of the hive, they transpose the location of a food source in the horizontal plane through the famous “waggle” dance into communication in the vertical plane of the hive.

Honeybees can tell how far away the food is up to a distance of about 15 kilometers and allow for the fact that the sun moves relative to the hive by about 15 degrees an hour and correct for this when they pass on the information. They have their own built-in global positioning system and a language that enables them to refer to objects and events that are distant in space or time.

German scientists in the early part of the last century called this ability of bees to Zeitgedächtnis, or time-sense. But the species of flowers in bloom, say, this week, is likely to be replaced by a different species at a different location next week or the week after.

The bee also needs a flexible, dynamic appointments system that it continually updates, and it has evolved an impressive ability to learn colors, odors, shapes and routes, within a time frame, quickly and accurately.

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