I recently got a quadcopter and in pockets of my spare time I’ve been attempting to make it an autonomous drone. Yet reading this article on unmanned drones has me returning to some thoughts I’ve had while working on the project. Basically: is neuroscience useful? Much of the utility from drones comes from their autonomy and adaptability. In my naive fantasies, I think that the work we do to understand the nervous system should inspire drone makers, hiring neuroscientists left and right to implant the lessons we’ve learned from the nervous system into these machines.
And yet – and yet I’m not aware of anyone doing this. There are whispers and rumors emanating from the Brain Corporation that this is their mission but I have yet to see anything concrete come out of that (to be fair, they’re a relatively new company). But even more we should be asking ourselves: are we going to be leap-frogged by those who are working in computer sciences – artificial intelligence, machine learning, vision processing?
That the drones are living in a newly created ecosystem, interacting and invading new niches, is undeniable. Presumably an enterprising young scientist in ecology, neuroscience, (economic) decision-making should be perfectly suited to at least consulting on these projects. I guess the question is: does that actually happen? Outside of ‘explaining the brain’ for ‘medicine’, do we do anything that’s actually useful? Or is that up to the engineers?
Update: Well here’s a good example of using animal behavior/reflexes to improve robotics.