Currently our lab is interested in two related but distinct areas of research; how animals detect, process, and use sensory information to move around in their environments and how to translate our knowledge from arthropod sensory biology to navigational tools for human endeavors. By understanding the neural circuitry that underlies the sensory processing behaviors in biological systems, we want to improve navigation in autonomous vehicles.
Primarily, our lab is interested in the sensory biology and homing ability of the desert scorpion, Paruroctonus utahensis (left). Several qualities make sand scorpions useful subjects for behavioral and neurophysiological investigations. First, they live in relatively clean sand habitats and excavate home burrows. Second, they possess exquisite sensory structures for detecting and processing environmental stimuli. Third, they fluoresce bright green under ultraviolet light, allowing for easy collection. Lastly, these animals are long-lived, easily maintained, and hardy specimens for electrophysiological studies.
Recently, we have also focused on the navigational strategies used by bees and ants to navigate. Along with our colleagues we have recently shown that a simple vision based algorithm can successfully recapitulate learned routes in simulated environments. It is termed navigation by scene familiarity (NSF). We are currently characterizing important aspects of NSF and testing the feasibility in robots.