Insect-inspired navigation algorithm for an aerial agent using satellite imagery

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 15;10(4):e0122077. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122077. eCollection 2015.


Humans have long marveled at the ability of animals to navigate swiftly, accurately, and across long distances. Many mechanisms have been proposed for how animals acquire, store, and retrace learned routes, yet many of these hypotheses appear incongruent with behavioral observations and the animals' neural constraints. The "Navigation by Scene Familiarity Hypothesis" proposed originally for insect navigation offers an elegantly simple solution for retracing previously experienced routes without the need for complex neural architectures and memory retrieval mechanisms. This hypothesis proposes that an animal can return to a target location by simply moving toward the most familiar scene at any given point. Proof of concept simulations have used computer-generated ant's-eye views of the world, but here we test the ability of scene familiarity algorithms to navigate training routes across satellite images extracted from Google Maps. We find that Google satellite images are so rich in visual information that familiarity algorithms can be used to retrace even tortuous routes with low-resolution sensors. We discuss the implications of these findings not only for animal navigation but also for the potential development of visual augmentation systems and robot guidance algorithms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Homing Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Internet
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Satellite Imagery / methods*
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology