Recently I went to Bristol Zoo. While there, I saw some Blind Cave Fish. These fish exist in pitch black caves, with no lighting. This has rendered having eyes a useless trait, leading to them now being completely blind. However, they still manage to navigate throughout their pitch black pools. I wondered: how do these fish navigate? The answer lies in a particular sensing organ seen in these fish known as lateral lines. These lateral lines consist of a type of modified epithelial cell, known as a hair cell. These cells can detect displacements in the water around them, and translate this in to an electrical impulse via excitatory synapses. Lateral lines are not only seen in sightless fish however; they can also be used in schooling behaviour, and even in prey tracking. As such, they are present in a variety of fish, including sharks.
My question is, could a system akin to lateral lines be used by UAVs? These would not be useful for navigation, but they could potentially be useful in small UAV swarms. The ability to not crash in to other swarm members is of high importance in this scenario, and so it potentially is worth using more advanced methodologies than in traditional UAV navigation. Civilian GPS systems (one of the most commonly used technologies for UAV horizontal positioning) such as the ones used in mobile phones have a resolution of around 4.9m . More accurate systems can be created to provide positioning to within a few centimetres, but this requires more advanced systems. Swarm UAVs are generally envisioned to be quite small devices, and so a high-end GPS system may not be viable for them. A simpler, on-board system such as an artificial lateral line system could allow for swarm UAVs to avoid other swarm members easily, and with quick reactions. It could also be possible for larger UAVs to use lateral lines as a projectile detection system, which would allow for UAV to react to an unsafe environment and retreat.
I appreciate that something like a range sonar would be a much better solution to this problem, but I felt like exploring the possibility of a novel UAV sensor. I’ll be breaking this up in to a few posts as it’s quite long, so check back for more!