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Flying Robots Suggest Bees Can't Rely on Instinct to Land on Flowers

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An aerial drone learning how to land.

A study involving small drones suggests the way bees landing on leaf after leaf is more difficult than it looks, implying the bees rely on learning as well as hardwired instinct.

Credit: New Scientist

Researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Germany's Westphalian University of Applied Sciences used small drones to study how bees land on one flower and then another in turn.

Bees and other insects use "optical flow," the rate at which things move through one’s field of view, to judge movement and decelerate for a soft landing.

The researchers initially found optical flow does not distinguish speed and distance sufficiently at very low speeds; they then had the drones learn what surfaces like bark or grass look like at different distances.

Delft's Guido de Croon said the combination of optical flow plus learning resulted in "really fast and smooth landings."

Westphalian's Tobias Seidl noted bees also go through such a learning phase for landings.

From New Scientist
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