Wasps conduct morning flights in which they study their nests from all angles so they can find their way home from foraging flights. A study of how they do this, complete with cameras to mimic a wasp-eye view of the world, could help ups find ways to ensure robotic aircraft don't get lost.
The first time bees leave the hive they do what is called a “learning flight” to orientate themselves so they can find their way back. Once completed, however, many never need to do this again. Ground-nesting wasps, on the other hand, do a learning flight every day, making sure nothing has changed while they were asleep. A paper in Current Biology reveals their flight paths, combined with remarkable footage of how wasps see the world.
Study author Professor Jochen Zeil of the Australian National University told IFLScience, “Bees initially nested in tree hollows, which is a more stable environment than these ground nesting burrows.” For a wasp, Zeil told IFLScience, their homes are in a “dynamic natural environment.” Each day, “Things get blown around by the wind, leaves and bark falls, rain can change the microenvironment.”
Consequently, ground-dwelling wasps have evolved to take a good look at their environment each day when they leave, in order to make sure they can make their way home. Zeil added that bees also do renewed learning flights if they have had trouble finding the hive on their previous venture, recognizing that something has changed that they had better learn about.
Observers have previously described wasps moving sideways in arcs around the nest while looking back towards it. The arcs gradually get wider, helping them place the nest location in context so they can find their way back. Using high-speed camera observations of the wasps and lenses that mimic the low-resolution, wide-field wasp vision, Zeil and his coauthors have helped record the learning flights of Cerceris arenaria, and reveal what it sees in the process.
The changing environment wasps have to get used to is more relevant for many robotic tasks than the familiarity many other animals assume. "The learning and homing abilities of wasps make them smarter than anything humans know how to build," Zeil said in a statement. "Roboticists look to replace expensive high resolution cameras and reduce power consumption without losing information that is crucial for visual navigation and our research could help with this."
The authors created computer models programmed with the information the wasps could see, and found that this was sufficient to guide their virtual wasps home. They hope the findings could be used to improve the guidance systems of autonomously flying robots.
[H/T: ABC Science]