IC12 – Robot models of Insect Navigation

Lecturer: Barbara Webb
Fields: Computational Neuroscience, Robotics, AI


Insect navigation has been a focus of behavioural study for many years, and provides a striking example of cognitive complexity in a miniature brain. We have used computational modelling to bridge the gap from behaviour to neural mechanisms by relating the computational requirements of navigational tasks to the type of computation offered by invertebrate brain circuits. We have shown that visual memory of multiple views could be acquired by associative
learning in the mushroom body neuropil, and allow insects to recapitulate long routes. We have also proposed a circuit in the central complex neuropil that integrates sky compass and optic flow information on an outbound path and can thus steer the animal directly home. The models are strongly constrained by neuroanatomy, and are tested in realistic agent and robot


  • Webb, B. (2020). Robots with insect brains. Science, 368(6488), 244-245. Webb, B. (2019). The internal maps of insects. Journal of Experimental Biology, 222(Suppl 1).
  • Stone, T., Webb, B., Adden, A., Weddig, N. B., Honkanen, A., Templin, R., Wcislo, W., Scimeca, L., Warrant, E. & Heinze, S. (2017). An anatomically constrained model for path integration in the bee brain. Current Biology, 27(20), 3069-3085.
  • Ardin, P., Peng, F., Mangan, M., Lagogiannis, K., & Webb, B. (2016). Using an insect mushroom body circuit to encode route memory in complex natural environments. PLoS computational biology, 12(2), e1004683.


Barbara Webb

Barbara Webb joined the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh in May 2003. Previously she lectured at the University of Stirling (1999-2003), the University of Nottingham (1995-1998) and the University of Edinburgh (1993-1995). She received her Ph.D. (in Artificial Intelligence) from the University of Edinburgh in 1993, and her B.Sc. (in Psychology) from the University of Sydney in 1988. Her main research interest is in perceptual systems for the control of behaviour, through building computational and physical (robot) models of the hypothesised mechanisms. In particular she focuses on insect behaviours, as their smaller nervous systems may be easier to understand. Recent work includes study of some of the more complex capabilities of insects, including multimodal integration (in crickets and flies), navigation (in ants) and learning (in flies and maggots). She also has an interest in theoretical issues of methodology; in particular the problems of measurement, modeling and simulation.

Affiliation: University of Edinburgh
Homepage: https://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/bwebb/