Robot bees mimic communal feeding

A five-year, $10m National Science Foundation Expeditions research project aims to create robotic bees that mimic the communal feeding behaviour of bee colonies.

A Northeastern University neurobiologist is to bring his expertise in animal robotics to a five-year, $10m (£6.1m) National Science Foundation (NSF) Expeditions research project to develop robotic bees that mimic the communal feeding behaviour of bee colonies.

Prof Joseph Ayers will collaborate with a team of researchers from Harvard University to develop micro flying robots with the technology to emulate bees’ brains, bodies and collective behaviour.

The project will draw on the knowledge of computer scientists, engineers and biologists to construct an electronic nervous system, a supervisory architecture and a high-energy source to power the innovative robots.

‘This project will integrate the efforts and expertise of a diverse team of investigators to create a system that far transcends the sum of its parts,’ said Ayers, who is a principal researcher at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center.

Inspired by the biology of the bee and its colonial behaviour, the project aims to advance miniature robotics and the design of compact, high-energy power sources, spur innovations in low-power computing and electronic smart sensors that mediate biomimetic control, and refine algorithms that will manage the multiple, independent machines.

Prof Ayers is widely known for his work in biomimetics, including the development of Robolobster and Robolamprey. The autonomous, biomimetic, underwater robotic models emulate the operations of the animals’ nervous systems using an electronic controller based on nonlinear, moving models of neurons and synapses.

Ayers will work in collaboration with Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Centeye, funded by the NSF’s Expeditions in Computing programme.

Established last year by the NSF Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), the programme provides funding for researchers to pursue ambitious, fundamental projects that hold the promise to redefine the future of computing and information.

For more information about the Expeditions project, visit