PLOS Computational Biology: Learning from Animals: How to Navigate Complex Terrains

in Research
January 1st, 2021

PLOS Computational Biology issued a press announcement on a paper that it published today authored by Boston University CISE Director Yannis Paschalidis (Professor ECE, SE, BME), PhD candidate Henghui Zhu (SE), former CISE post-doctoral associate Armin Ataei, former CISE visiting student scholar  Hao Liu (Zhejiang University), along with University of Washington collaborators Professor Thomas Daniel (BIO, NEUROSCI) and postdoctoral researcher Yonatan Munk (BIO).

An image of the experimental setup showing a moth attached to a metal rod in front of the virtual forest scene. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Daniel lab, University of Washington, Seattle)

The paper, entitled Learning from Animals: How to Navigate Complex Terrains, includes findings from the study of hawkmoths’ flight data that could be applied to develop decision-making programs for autonomous vehicles.

In the study, the researchers analyzed data from hawkmoth flight trajectories in a closed-loop virtual forest and extracted and adapted the navigation control policy for autonomous vehicles. Among key findings, the study revealed that moths rely heavily on optical flow (the pattern of apparent motion of objects in a scene caused by the animal’s movement) to navigate rather than explicitly observing the location of the various obstacles in the scene.  The researchers also found that the navigation strategy of moths could be adapted to design control policies guiding the movement of drones in cluttered environments.

“This work opens the door to learning from animals and humans how to perform certain tasks using autonomous robots,” says Prof. Paschalidis. “The study analysis could help synthesize novel navigation control strategies for autonomous vehicles operating in similar environments.”

Bio-inspired navigation is an area of focus for Boston University researchers as underscored by a multitude of research initiatives, including the recently won ONR MURI led by Prof. Paschalidis entitled: Neuro-Autonomy: Neuroscience-Inspired Perception, Navigation, and Spatial Awareness for Autonomous Robots.

Read the article “Learning from Animals: How to Navigate Complex Terrains” in PLOS Computational Biology 16(1): e1007452 here:

Read related articles:

Aerial Drones Get Schooled in Navigation“, The Brink, by Kerry Benson

Moths Teach Drones to Fly“, BU College of Engineering News, Liz Sheeley

Flight Data of Moths Used to Help Drones Fly Better“, Courthouse News, by Nathan Solis

Press inquires, please contact Maureen Stanton at CISE.  Phone: (617) 358-5973. Email: