Electrical engineer and neurosciences researcher Charles Higgins sees a time in the future when scientists will design robots that have the powerful vision of a moth or dragonfly, or even have such insects built in them directly to carry out phenomenal tasks involving sight and motion detection. Science fiction, you say? While Charles does admit to a healthy penchant for such flicks as Star Trek, Terminator, The Matrix and Source Code, his cutting-edge research today is steadily turning insect-inspired robotics into reality — work that is helping scientists harness and apply the electrical impulses of brain to machine. Progress in this realm, for example, has implications for developing better computerized prosthetics to help people who are paralyzed or have lost their limbs to regain function by enhancing their ability to control robotic limbs using only their thoughts.
This technology might also one day lead to development of machines that can see and smell the world just as living things do. In such pursuits, Charles and other researchers have been working to exploit the eyesight of insects with the ability (honed through millions of years of evolution) to see and detect motion in superior ways.
Charles is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience with a dual appointment in Electrical Engineering at the University of Arizona where he is also leader of the Higgins Lab. Though he started his career as an electrical engineer, his fascination with the natural world has led him to study insect vision and visual processing, and to try to meld together the worlds of robotics and biology.
If you could, what kind of an insect-inspired robot would you create and why?
Read more about Charles here.
Watch this video with Charles and learn more about his fascinating work with bio-electronic systems.