Susan Young Rojahn

A View from Susan Young Rojahn

Moth Drives Robot, Cruising for a Lady

The insect’s mate-seeking behavior could help researchers program self-driving robots to track airborne chemicals.

  • February 6, 2013

No Drivers Ed necessary –the male silkmoth can steer a small car toward what he thinks is a female moth just by following his natural mating-dance instincts.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo report in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics that a tethered insect can steer a two-wheeled robot toward the source of female moth pheromones by walking on a freely rotating ball that acts as his helm. In this YouTube video, you can see a moth pass his driving test even when the robot vehicle has been programmed to pull to one side. 

There is a serious point to this work. The researchers hope to learn how the moth tracks odors so they can better program self-driving robots to seek out hazardous chemical spills or leaks in the environment. Airborne chemicals can be difficult to track because they leave an intermittent trail, dispersed in patches away from their source. But male silkmoths are adept at seeking out a plume of a potential mate’s pheromones, so the researchers developed the moth car to study the way the Romeos search for love.

“By creating an ‘artificial brain’ based on the knowledge of the silkmoth’s individual neurons and tracking behavior, we hope to implement it into a mobile robot that will be equal to the insect-controlled robot developed in this study,” said lead author Noriyasu Ando in a release.

Images credit: Noriyasu Ando

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Biomedicine

New technologies and biological insights are providing unprecedented ways of improving our health.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of free articles this month.