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OBJECTIVE: Many computer vision and robotic applications require the implementation of robust and efficient target-tracking algorithms on a moving platform. However, deployment of a real-time system is challenging, even with the computational power of modern hardware. Lightweight and low-powered flying insects, such as dragonflies, track prey or conspecifics within cluttered natural environments, illustrating an efficient biological solution to the target-tracking problem. APPROACH: We used our recent recordings from 'small target motion detector' neurons in the dragonfly brain to inspire the development of a closed-loop target detection and tracking algorithm. This model exploits facilitation, a slow build-up of response to targets which move along long, continuous trajectories, as seen in our electrophysiological data. To test performance in real-world conditions, we implemented this model on a robotic platform that uses active pursuit strategies based on insect behaviour. MAIN RESULTS: Our robot performs robustly in closed-loop pursuit of targets, despite a range of challenging conditions used in our experiments; low contrast targets, heavily cluttered environments and the presence of distracters. We show that the facilitation stage boosts responses to targets moving along continuous trajectories, improving contrast sensitivity and detection of small moving targets against textured backgrounds. Moreover, the temporal properties of facilitation play a useful role in handling vibration of the robotic platform. We also show that the adoption of feed-forward models which predict the sensory consequences of self-movement can significantly improve target detection during saccadic movements. SIGNIFICANCE: Our results provide insight into the neuronal mechanisms that underlie biological target detection and selection (from a moving platform), as well as highlight the effectiveness of our bio-inspired algorithm in an artificial visual system.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neural Eng

Publication Date





Animals, Brain, Environment, Insecta, Odonata, Pattern Recognition, Automated, Photic Stimulation, Robotics