Wits finds dung beetles inform AI

Dung beetles use different directional sensors to achieve navigational precision.
Dung beetles use different directional sensors to achieve navigational precision.

Dung beetles use different directional sensors to achieve the highest possible navigational precision in different conditions. This discovery by Wits University and an international team of Swedish biologists from Lund University has ground-breaking impact for Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and Machine Learning. 

Have you ever wondered why dung beetles don’t get lost, even when they navigate vast expanses backwards? A research team led by Marie Dacke, professor of Sensory Biology at Lund University and renowned biology researcher and Professor Marcus Byrne from Wits asked and answered this question. 

Their discovery of the dung beetles’ wind compass and how it complements the sun compass, rolls on some fundamental lessons for better data prioritisation and navigation. The aim of the research is to understand how very small brains handle large amounts of information to make a relevant decision: is it appropriate to turn left or right, or continue straight on? 

The beetles have a fall-back system of compass cues that they can switch between, dependent on which one is providing the most reliable information for orientation, says Professor Byrne, who has collaborated with Dacke for almost 20 years on dung beetle orientation.

Dacke believes that the results will be of direct benefit within a few years, in areas like robot development and Artificial Intelligence (Al). Just like dung beetles, robots must take large amounts of information into consideration in order to direct their next action. 

Byrne Illustrates this point, saying “choosing the most important job at any given moment is a task most computers struggle with, which we all know about from the frustration of attempting to send an email while our machine checks its virus protection.” 

Wits is pushing far into the future through its Postgraduate Programmes in Machine Learning, AI and Robotics. For more information about the world-changing work you can do at Wits, go to http://www.wits.ac.za/machine-learning-ai-robotics/.

This post is sponsored, supplied and paid for by the University of Witwatersrand. 

 

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