Washington, Dec 8 (ANI): Scientists at a Caltech laboratory are studying flying insects' altitude control mechanisms, which may in turn lead to technology that controls altitude in a variety of aircraft for the Air Force.
"This work investigates sensory-motor feedback mechanisms in the insect brain that could inspire new approaches to flight stabilization and navigation in future insect-sized vehicles for the military," said Dr. Willard Larkin, AFOSR program manager who's supporting the work of lead researcher, Dr. Andrew Straw of Caltech.
The scientists have found that flies follow horizontal edges of objects to regulate altitude. Straw noted that the flies don't have access to GPS or other radio signals that may also be unavailable in, for example, indoor environments.
"However, with a tiny brain they are able to perform a variety of tasks such as finding food and mates despite changing light levels, wind gusts, wing damage, and so on," he said.
"Flies rely heavily on vision."
"We developed a 3D fly tracking system which was our most significant technical challenge: localizing a fly in 3D nearly instantaneously," said Straw.
"Next, we developed visual stimulus software capable of making use of this information to project virtual edges and textured floors in which we could modify the fly's sensory-motor feedback mechanism."
The 3D fly tracking system the researchers developed is significant because it will allow a rapid characterization of other fly behaviours with unprecedented levels of visual stimulus control.
"Additionally, being able to identify the neural circuits responsible for flight control would allow us to extend our understanding of how physiological processes implement behaviour," said Straw.
In future, the scientists will study more sophisticated flight behaviours, asking if the fly creates a long-lasting neural representation of its visual surroundings or whether flight is only controlled by fast-acting reflexes. (ANI)