Title: Neuromorphic Navigation and Obstacle Avoidance
Abstract: Animals have evolved mechanisms to travel safely, fastly, and efficiently within a variety of habitats. On a journey in dense terrains containing trees, branches, stems, or human-made buildings, animals must avoid collisions and sometimes cross narrow passages while controlling an overall course toward a target destination. To date, multiple hypotheses address how animals solve different challenges faced during such travel. In this talk we show that a single neural mechanism leads to obstacle avoidance and enables safe, fast, and efficient travel in dense terrains. We developed a robotic system inspired by the behaviours and neurobiology of insects which integrates obstacle avoidance with straight line navigation. Our neuromorphic agent has remarkable capabilities for travelling in dense terrains, avoiding collisions, crossing narrow gaps, selecting safe passages, and maintaining a safe distance to objects. At the same time it is able to keep track of the difference between current and desired heading to successfully performs straight line navigation in a variety of dense environments. Our findings provide a working hypothesis for how straight line navigation and obstacle avoidance could take place in insects, bringing us one step closer towards understanding the insect brain. Furthermore, our system illustrates that we can design novel hardware systems, possibly inheriting the efficiency of animals, by understanding the underlying mechanisms navigation behaviour.
Short bio: Elisabetta Chicca obtained a "Laurea" degree (M.Sc.) in Physics from the University of Rome 1 "La Sapienza", Italy in 1999 with a thesis on CMOS spike-based learning. In 2006 she received a Ph.D. in Natural Science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ, Physics department) and in Neuroscience from the Neuroscience Center Zurich. E. Chicca has carried out her research as a Postdoctoral fellow (2006-2010) and as a Group Leader (2010-2011) at the Institute of Neuroinformatics (University of Zurich and ETH Zurich) working on development of neuromorphic signal processing and sensory systems. Between 2011 and 2020 she lead the Neuromorphic Behaving Systems research group at Bielefeld University (Faculty of Technology and Cognitive Interaction Technology Center of Excellence, CITEC). In 2021 she established the Bio-Inspired Circuits and Systems group at the University of Groningen. Her current interests are in the development of CMOS models of cortical circuits for brain-inspired computation, learning in spiking CMOS neural networks and memristive systems, bio-inspired sensing (vision, touch, olfaction, audition, active
electrolocation) and motor control. She combines these research approaches with the aim of understanding neural computation by constructing behaving agents which can robustly operate in real-world environments.