2019 Keynote: Visual navigation in insects and robots
Barbara Webb, Professor of Biorobotics, University of Edinburgh
University of Exeter, Living Systems Institute, Stocker Road, Exeter EX4 4QD
Many insects have excellent navigational skills, covering distances, conditions and terrains that are still a challenge for robotics. The primary sense they use is vision, both to obtain self-motion information for path integration, and to establish visual memories of their surroundings to guide homing and route following. Insect vision is relatively low resolution, but exploits a combination of sensory tuning and behavioural strategies to solve complex problems. For example, by filtering for ultraviolet light in an omnidirectional view, segmentation of the shape of the horizon between sky and ground becomes both simple and highly consistent.
We have shown this approach can be used on a robot to reliably recognise location, even under different weather conditions or variations in pitch and tilt. Insects may use a specific behavioural strategy in navigation of aligning themselves to views they have stored when facing or following a route to a goal. We have investigated, using computational modelling and robot implementations, how the small brain of an insect might support the rapid learning of hundreds of images along a route. Our modelling approach has made it possible to link insights from field experiments to neural data, and thus derive and test novel hypotheses about visual navigation in insects.
Barbara Webb completed a BSc in Psychology at the University of Sydney then a PhD in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. Her PhD research pioneered the use of embodied robot models to evaluate biological hypotheses of behavioural control, and was featured in Scientific American. The focus of her research is on insects, but has moved from basic sensorimotor control towards more complex behavioural capabilities, such associative learning and navigation. She has held lectureships at the University of Nottingham and University of Stirling before returning to a faculty position in the School of Informatics at Edinburgh in 2003. She was appointed to a personal chair as Professor of Biorobotics in 2010.
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