Missile Defense Systems and Dragonfly Brains

Missile Defense Systems and Dragonfly Brains

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have been studying the brains of insects to learn how to build computers that can intercept incoming missiles. Dragonflies successfully capture up to 95% of the prey they pursue – which is usually mosquitoes. The dragonfly doesn’t just aim its body at the mosquito, but rather it points its body at where the mosquito is going to be. You can see the connection between missile defense systems and dragonfly brains.

Dragonflies have specialized eyes that send data to their brains at the equivalent of 200 frames per second, which is several times faster than the human eye. The human brain has many more neurons than the dragonfly–86 billion as opposed to the 250,000. The larger number of neurons in human brains allows us to have cognition and do many things. However, dragonflies are designed to do one thing—to catch their food—and do it fast.

Dragonflies respond to a maneuver by their prey in 50 milliseconds (ms). That requires the eye to detect and transmit information to the brain in 10 ms. The brain has to calculate the dragonfly’s counter-maneuver in 35 ms to leave 5 ms for flight muscles to activate and take the dragonfly to where the mosquito will be. In-flight, the dragonfly must continually monitor the mosquito’s path and recalculate the trajectory. The speed of the process means there is time for only three or four neuron layers to act. Missile defense systems and dragonfly brains must act quickly.

Other insects have neurons designed for specific functions. For example, monarch butterflies have a navigational system that depends on the position of the Sun. Since the Sun’s position changes from morning to afternoon, the butterflies must have a designed system that allows them to always travel in the right direction. In addition to that, they need an instinct that tells them when to start their journey. Ants and bees also have neuron structures that allow them to return to their nest or hive no matter how far they get from it in their search for food.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and Janelia Research Campus are studying these insect brains with the idea of building computers that will allow interception of missiles, prevent cars from colliding, and serve other practical purposes that require focus and speed. Proverbs 6:6 tells us to “go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise.” The design we see in even the simplest of God’s creatures radiates purpose and intelligence beyond that of mechanical chance.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: IEEE Spectrum