Once again, engineers are taking cues from nature to build the next generation of robotics, in this case drones inspired by birds.
From Science News:
If the future involves drones crowding the sky, the machines will need sharp visual systems to work along with their wind sensors. Akin to Luke Skywalker's speeder bike instinctively dodging trees on the forest moon of Endor, these drones must sense objects as they approach and dance around them.
(Russ Tedrake, director of the Center for Robotics at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence LabTedrake and his) team is on it, having designed a visual system that can recognize oncoming impediments and turn the drone.
One example from Tedrake's lab, called push broom stereo, behaves like working memory in birds and humans. As reported last July at arXiv.org, the computer program uses two small cameras on a drone to scan the space about five meters in front of the drone. When an obstacle appears, push broom temporarily remembers the object's position so the drone can evade it. Initial flights were manually piloted, but the authors say they are confident that the system could autonomously avoid the obstacles, as well. Once past, its memory banks forget the obstacle. This amnesia means that engineers can use smaller computers for piloting, which translates into smaller drones.