Next-generation drones could learn from bumblebees’ amazing flight

Next-generation drones could learn from bumblebees' amazing flight
A bumblebee flying within shrubs while foraging needs to devise effective strategies to avoid collisions that may cause damage to its wings and body. By perceiving the gaps between obstacles in relation to its own wingspan and body shape, bees display a remarkable ability to safely fly through even tight spaces. Credit: Charlotte Doussot.

An international study, led by researchers from UNSW Canberra, has discovered the secret of bumblebees’ self-aware dexterous flight—with potential applications for the next generation of drones and autonomous vehicles.

Research lead author, Dr. Sridhar Ravi, studied how bumblebees navigated through a tunnel with a series of gates featuring different-sized holes. The bees were able to successfully fly through the apertures, thanks to a remarkable sense of their own size and a detailed perception of the obstacles’ openings.

Dr. Ravi said that by scanning the aperture, bumblebees were able to skilfully fit through the gates by manipulating the speed of their approach and posture, even flying sideways when the hole was smaller than their wingspan. A behavior that required an awareness of their body shape and dimensions relative to those of the obstacles, this is the first time such evidence has been seen in flying invertebrates.

“Previous research had indicated that complex processes, such as the perception of self-size, were cognitively driven and present only in animals with large brains. However, our research indicates that small insects, with an even smaller brain, can comprehend their body size and use that information while flying in a complex environment,” Dr. Ravi said.

Using ‘lateral peering,” a process where the bee scans a feature using depth perception and spatial awareness, the insects build a comprehensive map of the aperture and can change their body orientation to fit through the gap, similar to how humans rotate their shoulders to fit through a narrow doorway.

“We were amazed to see that in some instances, the bumblebees reorientated themselves sideways to fly through gaps they were unable to attempt head-on. The dexterity of these insects has really got us thinking about what other secret bee behaviors we could unlock,” Dr. Ravi said.

Next-generation drones could learn from bumblebees' amazing flight
Dr Sridhar Ravi said that bumblebees were able to skilfully fly through different sized openings by manipulating the speed of their approach and posture. Credit: University of New South Wales Canberra

The research also provides inspiration to apply the bumblebees’ attributes to robotics with potential applications for the next generation of drones and autonomous vehicle technology to deal with the challenges of flying in real-world conditions.

“Insects are fantastic models for robots because they have exceedingly small brains and yet they’re able to perform overly complex tasks. Over thousands of years nature has coded insects with some amazing attributes. Our challenge now is to see how we can take this and apply a similar coding to future robotic systems, enhancing their performance in the natural world,” Dr. Ravi said.

A robot to track and film flying insects

More information:
Sridhar Ravi et al. Bumblebees perceive the spatial layout of their environment
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Modified drones help scientists better predict volcanic eruptions

Mount St. Helens, Vesuvius, Krakatoa: history is full of volcanic eruptions that took humans by surprise and caused devastating damage. But with the help of drones, an international team of scientists from the US and seven other countries say they’ve developed a system for better predicting when an active volcano will erupt.

In May 2019, the Above Project traveled to Papua New Guinea to visit the island’s Manam volcano. They brought drones like the DJI Phantom with them, modifying them with components like miniature gas sensors and spectrometers. From a safe distance of nearly 4 miles away, the Above team piloted the drones near active vents on the surface of the volcano, collecting samples and measurements along the way.

That data allowed the team to calculate the ratio of sulfur and carbon dioxide the volcano was venting, which they say is critical to determining how likely an eruption is to occur since it helps volcanologists determine the source of a volcano’s magma. Moreover, the Above team says the data they gathered will also help scientists better understand how volcanoes contribute to the global carbon cycle, which will further our understanding of climate change.

Above Project drone
Above Project drone

The Above team published their findings in the Frontiers in Robotics and AI journal. Professor Alessandro Aiuppa, one of the co-authors of the report, described the work the Above team did as “a real advance in our field,” adding, “ten years ago you could have only stared and guessed what Manam’s CO2 emissions were.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen scientists tout the potential of drones as a kind of early warning system. At the start of 2020, a different team of researchers developed a communication system that could allow a network of drones to deliver early warnings for natural disasters.

Source Article

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Dendra System’s seed-spitting drones rebuild forests from the air

There is hope, however. A recent study in the journal Nature found that “restoring 15 percent of converted lands in priority areas could avoid 60 percent of expected extinctions while sequestering 299 gigatonnes of CO2.” That’s a third of the total increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the Industrial Revolution. 

In response, governments, NGOs, charities and even private businesses have devised and implemented reforestation plans that work much like the “take-a-penny, leave-a-penny” trays next to your bodega’s cash register do. Essentially they seek to replace what has been removed in order to maintain balance within the system. In 2011, for example, Germany and the International Union for Conservation of Nature launched the Bonn Challenge which seeks to restore 350 million hectares (Mha) of land by 2030. To date, more than 43 nations located in tropical and subtropical climates have pledged to restore 300 Mha. 

These are lofty goals indeed. The problem is, reforestation efforts are labor intensive. You need boots on the ground and hands in the soil for these campaigns to be successful and, as such, often become long, slogging affairs. For example, the Worldview International Foundation in 2012, launched a campaign to plant a billion mangrove trees in the nation of Myanmar. In the subsequent seven years, local volunteers managed to plant 6 million seedlings by hand — an admirable effort but simply too slow to make a difference at the scale required. That’s when Dendra Systems, a drone-based forest restoration company, got involved. With the help of modern avionics and automation, the campaign managed to plant an additional 4 million mangrove seedlings in 2019 alone. The company estimates that a pair of operators flying ten drones could plant as many as 400,000 trees per day.

“The human species has been very good at building tools to do deforestation at an industrial scale,” Jeremie Leonard, an engineer with Dendra Systems, told Engadget. “And, for a long time, the state of the arts in ecosystem restoration was hand planting. So we’re trying to give restoration a toolset to be able to do that at the largest scale.”

For Dendra, that toolset includes two types of modified commercial-grade autonomous aerial drone platforms, a visual AI, a machine learning algorithm for establishing seeding patterns, and a custom built seed-spitter that fires marble-sized pods packed with baby trees and all the nutrients they need to get growing. Since the company’s founding in 2014, it has completed nearly 40 contracts in 11 nations, largely working with resource extraction companies to repair landscapes after the completion of mining and forestry activity.

The company’s fourfold restoration process starts with an in-depth aerial survey of the acreage to be reclaimed, looking at “the terrain, the topology, the nutrients, the biodiversity,” founder Lauren Fletcher said during a 2017 Ted Talk, as well as slope, soil type and moisture. Dendra’s largest mapping drone can carry up to 22 kilograms of equipment and its sensors can resolve images at 2-3cm per pixel. “The idea of going

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Global Small Drones Industry

Global Small Drones Market to Reach $43. 5 Billion by 2027. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Small Drones estimated at US$15. 5 Billion in the year 2020, is projected to reach a revised size of US$43.

New York, Oct. 22, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — announces the release of the report “Global Small Drones Industry” –
5 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 15.9% over the analysis period 2020-2027. Defense, one of the segments analyzed in the report, is projected to record a 16.7% CAGR and reach US$17.6 Billion by the end of the analysis period. After an early analysis of the business implications of the pandemic and its induced economic crisis, growth in the Civil & Commercial segment is readjusted to a revised 17.2% CAGR for the next 7-year period.

The U.S. Market is Estimated at $4.2 Billion, While China is Forecast to Grow at 20.7% CAGR

The Small Drones market in the U.S. is estimated at US$4.2 Billion in the year 2020. China, the world`s second largest economy, is forecast to reach a projected market size of US$10.1 Billion by the year 2027 trailing a CAGR of 20.7% over the analysis period 2020 to 2027. Among the other noteworthy geographic markets are Japan and Canada, each forecast to grow at 11.3% and 14% respectively over the 2020-2027 period. Within Europe, Germany is forecast to grow at approximately 12.5% CAGR.

Homeland Security Segment to Record 14.3% CAGR

In the global Homeland Security segment, USA, Canada, Japan, China and Europe will drive the 13.5% CAGR estimated for this segment. These regional markets accounting for a combined market size of US$2.4 Billion in the year 2020 will reach a projected size of US$5.8 Billion by the close of the analysis period. China will remain among the fastest growing in this cluster of regional markets. Led by countries such as Australia, India, and South Korea, the market in Asia-Pacific is forecast to reach US$6.7 Billion by the year 2027, while Latin America will expand at a 16% CAGR through the analysis period. We bring years of research experience to this 8th edition of our report. The 214-page report presents concise insights into how the pandemic has impacted production and the buy side for 2020 and 2021. A short-term phased recovery by key geography is also addressed.

Competitors identified in this market include, among others,

  • 3D Robotics, Inc. (3DR)

  • Aeronautics

  • AeroVironment, Inc.

  • Boeing Company, The

  • DJI

  • Elbit Systems Ltd.

  • Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd.

  • Lockheed Martin Corporation

  • Microdrones GmbH

  • Northrop Grumman Corporation

  • Parrot Drones SAS

  • Raytheon Company


  • Textron Inc.

  • Thales Group

  • Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI)

Read the full report:



Global Competitor Market Shares
Small Drones Competitor Market Share Scenario Worldwide (in %):
2019 & 2025
Impact of Covid-19 and a Looming Global Recession



Table 1: Small

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Inspection drones buzz this airport (and the FAA is cool with it)


Since September 2018, FedEx has been inspecting its aircraft at a busy international airport using drones that normally wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the facility. Strict regulations prohibit drones from sharing airspace with planes, but a novel FAA pilot that includes FedEx, as well as drone companies such as DJI and Asylon, could change that in the future.

Drone inspection has long been a hot area for enterprise drones, including in unexpected spaces, but this program is a real watershed in the FAA’s evolving approach to drone regulation. I reached out to Joel Murdock, managing director at FedEx Express, for insights about the company’s airport drone operations and what it means for the future of enterprise drones in sensitive areas, and he’s optimistic.

“We believe drones could help improve efficiencies around aircraft inspections and maintenance at our World Hub at Memphis International Airport,” says Murdock, “and other airports around the country.  We also believe drones can be used to supplement our existing airport perimeter surveillance and runway/taxiway FOD detection activities.”

The program started in May of 2018 when the U.S. Dept. of Transportation launched the Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Pilot Programs (UAS IPP), granting ten leading participants the opportunity to test ten different use cases for drones. Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, in collaboration with FedEx, was given the go-ahead to test drones for on-airport operations, and the findings from each UAS IPP will help inform future policymaking for drones operating in the United States. 

The program’s first year was dedicated to developing flight procedures. FedEx began initial operations off-airport in areas of increasing operational complexity, including places such as the Memphis Riverfront Park, Memphis Redbird Ball Park and Liberty Bowl Coliseum. FedEx conducted small unmanned aircraft systems pilot and visual observer training during day and night-time operations and developed and evaluated small UAS flight performance on simulated missions before progressing to the Memphis International Airport to conduct UAS flight tests.

To understand why this is so significant, it’s important to understand how strict the current regulatory environment is.

“The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration currently restricts the use of drones within five miles of an airport,” explains Murdock. “Through the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority’s UAS IPP we are working with the FAA to safely test use cases for on-airport drone usage. Our findings will help inform future policymaking towards the use of drones at and around the perimeter of airports in the United States.”

The drones in FedEx’s pilot are focused on day-to-day operations, including supporting aircraft general visual inspections using high resolution camera imagery on the top on the fuselage, wings and tail sections at World Hub at Memphis International Airport.  

“These drones will identify areas requiring further analysis by inspection personnel to determine if a repair action is required,” says Murdock.

If successful, the concept is likely to spread. “We are hopeful that we will be able to continue testing drone use at Memphis International Airport, and eventually other airports important to our operations in the future.”


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NSW National Parks and Wildlife deploy drones in post-bushfire recovery

unmanned drone low pass in sunset panorama landscape

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Following the devastating Black Summer bushfires, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife has been using drones to assist with post-fire recovery.

Speaking as part of the digital DroneDeploy Conference this week, NSW National Parks and Wildlife chief remote pilot Gareth Pickford explained that using drones to assist various stakeholders within the NSW government to assess the damage caused by bushfires last summer is a cost-effective and efficient way to collect data.

“The types of data that we actually were planning on getting out in the field was around fire severity areas that were affected by fires, not just in local parks that are open to tourism, but also wilderness areas, which are natural habitats to certain species that may have been affected by fire,” he said.

“We wanted to understand how much they were going to be affected by the fire, and its post-effects.”

Some of the specific activities that the drones were used for included ecology assessments, which are live snapshots and maps of different terrains across the state; multispectral mapping to examine the types of vegetation that either survived or were destroyed; archeological analysis of historical sites; and evening thermal scanning to assess the animal population in certain areas, particularly in remaining vegetation patches.

“A lot of the terrain is very dangerous; a lot of trees are still falling over, as the winds and the storms move through a lot of hollowed-out trees … so, what we would do is take footage of certain areas to illustrate to people and our stakeholders of what that terrain looks like,” he said.

Read more: How drones are steadily advancing Australia’s environmental industry (TechRepublic)

The drones have also been used to collect data for pest control purposes following the fires. 

“A lot of feral animals will come out and start destroying the regrowth ability in certain vegetated areas. For example, wild pigs would come out and destroy the chances of certain forests rehabilitating themselves,” Pickford said.

Pickford added that data collected by the drones was used in conjunction with satellite imagery to provide the team with better intelligence.

“The biggest thing against us was time. Because vegetation was growing back, the key was to get out as quickly as possible to identify priority sites so we could get that data point for next time, get an understanding of ecology and species so we can understand the effect,” he said.

The recovery program is part of a wider drone operation that spans across the 80 million hectares that make up the state, of which 7 million hectares is national park. In addition to bushfire and fire operations, the 30-pilot drone team operates across a range of other categories such as land management, environmental science, water, marine research, compliance, and enforcement.

Using more advanced drones, alongside other technologies such as remote sensors, data science, and artificial intelligence, was one of the key recommendations handed down as part of the NSW bushfire final report in August.

The report said equipping firefighters

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