05/11/2013 11:46 am ET

Moths Drive Car & Model Behavior For Robots (VIDEO)

Silk moths can't fly, so usually the guys have to meet ladies the old fashioned way: by crawling.

But at one Tokyo University lab male moths get to "drive." By moving their feet on a special trackball, these male moths successfully steer a robot toward the scent of female sex hormones.

The study may seem like a parlor trick, but it could actually help save lives. Using the moth's odor-tracking as a model, the Tokyo researchers are working to create a robot "brain" that detects and responds to hazardous material spills and leaks.

Why base life-saving technology on a tiny bug brain? "The insect sensory-motor system is attractive because of its simple, fast and adaptive properties." Noriyasu Ando, the study's lead author and professor of intelligent cooperative systems, told The Huffington Post in an email.

This isn't the first time scientists have used animals as models for creating robots -- there's a whole field of engineers who work on so-called biomimetics. Recently, Harvard researchers created a tiny robot fly that can flap its wings and hover like an insect. And Georgia Institute of Technology physicists made flippered robots inspired by baby sea turtles.

The study was published in the March issue of Bioinspiration and Biomimetics and featured in a recent NPR post.



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