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Aircraft landing system turns to plan bee

Australian researchers have taken inspiration from bees to develop an autonomous aircraft landing system that operates independently of outside technology.

Researchers have mimicked bee vision using cameras to land an aircraft. University of Queensland

After studying the flight patterns of bees, Australian Researchers from the University of Queensland have developed an autonomous aircraft landing system that uses visual cues from cameras to control landings without the need for outside technology.

According to project leader Saul Thurrowgood, the system differs from other autonomous landing techniques as it is not reliant on outside technology such as laser-range sensors, radio beacons and GPS signals.

"It is totally independent of GPS signals, which can be blocked or hacked, and is a start for aircraft to independently understand their surroundings," Mr Thurrowgood said.

"All commercial aircraft need to have backup systems, and this research provides the option of having different types of sensing. If one isn't working then the pilot has something else to fall back on."

According to Thurrowgood, the camera-driven technology was inspired by the natural world -- the team mounted cameras to an aircraft with a two-metre wingspan in order to track surroundings during flight, similar to the flying behaviour of bees.

"Bees use optic flow for their descent -- using the rate of motion beneath them to guide their landing -- and recent testing also shows that they may also use stereo vision for their touchdown, which is using two eyes to judge distance," he said.

"We have incorporated both of these techniques in our automatic landing system, but modified them for use in a fixed-wing aircraft.

"The plane used the visual system to guide itself, sense its altitude, control its throttle and shut itself off when it landed."

It's not the first time UQ researchers have turned to nature to develop new flight technology. In 2013, a team from the University used the shape of a maple seed as inspiration for a small biodegradable drone capable of monitoring atmospheric conditions during bushfires.