Volvo has delved into a new, fascinating, and intersectional, initiative. The car company’s vision is to develop a collision safety system for automobiles based on the African grasshopper’s ability to not collide when it flies in swarms.
Scientists have discovered that the African locust has a unique internal radar system composed of a giant movement detector behind the eyes. The visual input is instantly transmitted to the insect’s wing nerve cells – seemingly bypassing the brain. The detector releases bursts of energy when the locust is on a collision course, which allows it to move out of the way quickly. Jonas Ekmark, preventive safety leader at Volvo Safety Division, points out how amazing it is that these grasshoppers can fly around in a chaotic swarm, looking for food, yet never once collide with each other. He feels that the discovery about the locust’s radar system has the potential of yielding information that could be used to develop new technology to cut down on road traffic accidents.
The connection between the locust’s sensory system and a potential road traffic safety system was made by Dr. Claire Rind at Newcastle University, in the UK. When asked how she came up with it, she answers that she thinks it came from her own experience as a driver and a pedestrian. Locusts are quick to react and have reliable circuits, and they can do their computations against a lot of background chatter, which is quite similar to driving a vehicle around town. And so she realized that the locust’s ability may be available in the context of road traffic safety.
Volvo safety division heard about Dr. Rind’s research, and thought it could be of use particularly in regard to pedestrian safety. The automobile company hopes to reproduce the locust’s radar system onto a computer chip, and install it inside a camera, which would compose the car’s safety system – although, so far, current hardware and software systems have proved unable to replicate the locust’s sensory system.