Researchers recreate wasp eye view

12 February 2016

Researchers who have spent 10 years studying ground-nesting wasps have solved a mystery of how the insects make sure that they find their way home.

Professor Jochen Zeil from The Australian National University (ANU) and a team of researchers found wasps gather views of their environment during learning flights each day with their focus always on their nest to ensure they know the way home after foraging.

"The learning and homing abilities of wasps make them smarter than anything humans know how to build," he said.

As part of the research, the team created a wasp's eye view, using 3D models and stereo cameras, so they can understand why wasps gather certain information during learning and homing.

The research is being used to assist with the development of autonomous flying robots.

Professor Zeil from the ANU Research School of Biology said ground-wasps navigate using panoramic vision which generates a lot of information at low resolution.

"Roboticists look to replace expensive high resolution cameras and reduce power consumption without losing information that is crucial for visual navigation and our research could help with this," he said.

"Our research will also help people ask the right questions when they are studying the brain mechanisms of navigation in insects."

Professor Zeil said unlike honeybees that normally complete a learning flight once in their life, wasps that have their nest in the ground perform a learning flight each morning to account for scene changes during the night.

The research, led by Wolfgang Stürzl at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, German Aerospace Center, has been published in the journal Current Biology.