Abstract

A new approach called bioinspired engineering of exploration systems (BEES) and its value for solving pressing NASA and DoD needs are described. Insects (for example honeybees and dragonflies) cope remarkably well with their world, despite possessing a brain containing less than 0.01% as many neurons as the human brain. Although most insects have immobile eyes with fixed focus optics and lack stereo vision, they use a number of ingenious, computationally simple strategies for perceiving their world in three dimensions and navigating successfully within it. We are distilling selected insect-inspired strategies to obtain novel solutions for navigation, hazard avoidance, altitude hold, stable flight, terrain following, and gentle deployment of payload. Such functionality provides potential solutions for future autonomous robotic space and planetary explorers. A BEES approach to developing lightweight low-power autonomous flight systems should be useful for flight control of such biomorphic flyers for both NASA and DoD needs. Recent biological studies of mammalian retinas confirm that representations of multiple features of the visual world are systematically parsed and processed in parallel. Features are mapped to a stack of cellular strata within the retina. Each of these representations can be efficiently modeled in semiconductor cellular nonlinear network (CNN) chips. We describe recent breakthroughs in exploring the feasibility of the unique blending of insect strategies of navigation with mammalian visual search, pattern recognition, and image understanding into hybrid biomorphic flyers for future planetary and terrestrial applications. We describe a few future mission scenarios for Mars exploration, uniquely enabled by these newly developed biomorphic flyers.

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