New dodge

An intuitive sensor system based on the evasive movements of cockroaches could end air and road collisions and allow the development of unmanned cars and aircraft, its inventors claim.

US micro-sensor company Orbital Research developed their Biologically Inspired Autonomous Vehicle Escape Reflex Tactic (Bio-Avert) system using a computer model from Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University. The programme is based on information collected by placing electrodes on cockroaches and mapping their escape response.

The cockroach’s nervous system constantly analyses its surroundings and reacts instinctively to threats, moving its legs to take evasive action.

‘This is reflexive decision- making; the data does not have to go through the brain before a manoeuvre is made,’ said Fred Lisy, Orbital’s chief executive.

By combining the programme with ultrasonic sensors the company created a collision-free radio-controlled model car with an escape response circuit that avoided a crash by braking, accelerating or turning, even when the vehicle was directed straight at an obstacle.

The system could be adapted for other vehicles such as aircraft or missiles. A series of pre-set manoeuvres could be installed on the sensor system. These would be run through off-line to eliminate any unacceptable solutions before the aircraft takes off.

‘Originally, the system was developed for use in unmanned cars,’ said Lisy. ‘The cars would be able to detect vehicles around them and act to avoid collisions. The system was trained to avoid choices unacceptable to passengers, such as sudden halts.’

Lisy said the system could also be used for airliners. ‘The cockroach uses its back legs for thrust, its side ones for stability and its front for steering, just like a plane,’ said Lisy ‘Pilots sometimes don’t see other planes until it is too late, or their reactions are slow. This system would flag up an alert to a possible problem. If the pilot failed to take action the reflexive system would kick in.’

The company is now testing the system on unmanned aerial vehicles.

‘Acceptance as the only means of control could be a problem as we all know computers are liable to make mistakes,’ said Lisy. ‘We are therefore working to ensure there are no false positives.’

Orbital has also received funding from the USAF to reverse the system, creating Bioseek for use in interceptor missiles, to allow them to react to evasive movements by their target, ensuring a direct hit.