The U.S. National Science Foundation has allocated a $300,000 research grant to a Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) project that will study bumblebee navigation and use that information to help improve the safe operation of smart cars.
The project seeks to enable "connected vehicles" that communicate to each other via some form of channel so they exchange data about their velocity, direction, and intentions, to boost both driver and pedestrian safety.
Bumblebees are being researched as a model for this navigational method because they share information with each other and then act on it individually.
The project is a collaboration between WPI researcher Alexander Wyglinski and biologist Robert Gegear, in which the latter will study bumblebee foraging behavior, and the former will feed the resulting data to models for connected vehicles.
"Evolution has primed these types of insects to survive in [the] real world," Wyglinski says. "We're just borrowing what mother nature has polished."
Wyglinski predicts the initiative will help him deploy and test a connected vehicle network based on the bumblebee data prior to a real-world implementation. He anticipates cars being equipped with connected vehicle systems within five years.
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