Insect VR

Shannon B. Olsson and Pavan Kumar Kaushik (IN) with students from the Idea Translation Lab (IE)

Searching for a complex object in a world filled with complex objects is difficult for any animal, including insects. Shannon B. Olsson and Pavan Kumar Kaushik of Naturalist-Inspired Chemical Ecology Lab (NICE) started the Insect VR project with the intention of placing visitors in the ‘mind of a bug’ so they can understand how pests find food crops — or even humans, in the case of mosquitos.

Their group theorises that effective pest management requires both an understanding of the symptoms, as well as the cause, of pest damage. This requires a knowledge of the problem from the pest’s point of view, which they attempt to simulate here. Insect VR is a virtual reality (VR) project in which students from Trinity College Dublin collaborate with and translate the research of NICE during FIELD TEST.

The intention is to create a VR game that simulates what an apple-seeking fly might experience while searching for an apple. The VR world is based on real-world data obtained from insect behaviour. VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift can be used to simulate a fly-like experience for a human user, with modifications to account for our sensory differences. The user’s task is then to find the apple in a virtual group of trees. Currently the NICE lab is testing a similar VR setup for actual apple maggot flies. The data from the sensors of the VR headset will provide valuable trajectories that they will use to compare human and fly trajectories.

This data not only gives insights on human search strategies but also can be compared against a fly in the identical VR world to provide deeper understanding on how a fly finds its host. Such information can be further used to develop more ecologically-based pest management programmes.


Shannon Olsson is the Principal Investigator of the Naturalist-Inspired Chemical Ecology Lab (NICE) at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India. Her lab is currently investigating wild pollinators, the physiology of insects, insect speciation, naturally-derived insect repellents, and crop pests. Pavan Kumar Kaushik is a lab member at NICE and his research is on quantifying decision making through ethology, ecology, and engineering. The Idea Translation Lab is a broad curriculum elective course taught by Zack Denfeld at Trinity College Dublin.

The Open Ag Lab presents some of the cutting edge research being field tested on farms and is a space for visitors to get their hands dirty through learning.