Locusts: Nature

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British scientists and engineers have been using nature as a source of inspiration — they’ve been learning from locusts. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The locust’s ability to react quickly to approaching objects, is being carefully studied by scientists. Well, they think that we may be able to adapt this system for our own purposes.

ambience: locusts, cicadas

Dr. Claire Rind has been researching locust vision at the Neuroscience Department of the University of New Castle upon Tyne. She’s found that trying to copy nature has its advantages and disadvantages.

“Obviously something as important as reacting to an approaching object is something which means life or death to the locust, so that evolution, over the time of the locust, has ensured that the system will be extremely well adapted for that challenge. So we would do well to study these systems which are extremely well adapted to meeting something which we find difficult. Very few systems which respond to motions and depth are known in enough detail for us to be able to write down the circuit. The fact that we can take inspiration from an animal which does it so effortlessly, that’s a good thing, but there are limits in biology. Evolution may impose constraints that we may not need to bother about, I’ll give you an example — in the brain, neurons respond in millisecond time frames. If you have an artificial circuit, you don’t have to have that constraint. You can do it in nanoseconds. You don’t have to slavishly copy biology.”

Dr. Rind was able to find a balance between nature’s and man’s creations by using her locust vision research to help design a new car collision avoidance system.

We’ll hear more about that in our next program. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

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Locusts: Nature

Scientists are taking a close look at what locusts do very well - get out of the way of onrushing objects.
Air Date:06/26/2003
Scientist:
Transcript:


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British scientists and engineers have been using nature as a source of inspiration -- they've been learning from locusts. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The locust's ability to react quickly to approaching objects, is being carefully studied by scientists. Well, they think that we may be able to adapt this system for our own purposes.

ambience: locusts, cicadas

Dr. Claire Rind has been researching locust vision at the Neuroscience Department of the University of New Castle upon Tyne. She's found that trying to copy nature has its advantages and disadvantages.

"Obviously something as important as reacting to an approaching object is something which means life or death to the locust, so that evolution, over the time of the locust, has ensured that the system will be extremely well adapted for that challenge. So we would do well to study these systems which are extremely well adapted to meeting something which we find difficult. Very few systems which respond to motions and depth are known in enough detail for us to be able to write down the circuit. The fact that we can take inspiration from an animal which does it so effortlessly, that's a good thing, but there are limits in biology. Evolution may impose constraints that we may not need to bother about, I'll give you an example -- in the brain, neurons respond in millisecond time frames. If you have an artificial circuit, you don't have to have that constraint. You can do it in nanoseconds. You don't have to slavishly copy biology."

Dr. Rind was able to find a balance between nature's and man's creations by using her locust vision research to help design a new car collision avoidance system.

We'll hear more about that in our next program. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music