Navigation Links
Is there a pilot in the insect?

When they fly, insects use their vision for piloting, just like human pilots. The electric signals from their facetted eyes travel through specialized neurons to stimulate the wing muscles, which let the insects correct their flight and avoid crashes. Could these same neurons be used in a sort of "automatic pilot"? This is what Nicolas Franceschini, Franck Ruffier and Julien Serres have just shown. These biorobotics specialists from the Movement and Perception Laboratory (CNRS/Université de la Méditerranée) in Marseille, France have revealed an automatic mechanism called the "optic flow regulator" that controls the lift force. The researchers obtained these results by modeling the overland flight navigation of insects using experiments carried out on OCTAVE, a captive flying robot microhelicopter that can reproduce much of the mysterious natural insect behavior. Their work is published online in Current Biology, February 8, 2007.

How does a tiny creature like a fly or a bee, with a brain the size of a pinhead, manage to make such a magnificent job of controlling its flight, and avoid crashing to the ground? Today it is known that the sensory motor prowess of these flying miniatures depends on the nervous system, made up of between one hundred thousand and one million neurons. When an insect, bird or pilot flies over land, the image of the ground below sweeps from front to back across the central part of the visual field, creating an "optic flow", which is defined as the angular speed at which the ground contrasts move past. By definition, this angular speed is equal to the ratio of the horizontal speed and the altitude. What these authors call an "optic flow regulator" is a reflex that keeps the optic flow, and thus the speed/altitude ratio, at a constant value. If the insect changes speed, this reflex will make it change altitude so that ratio remains constant. Adjusting the speed/altitude ratio means that the insect has no need to measure either its spee d or its altitude.

If there is a strong headwind, its forward speed will be reduced. Thus its optic flow regulator will constantly force it to reduce altitude so that the optic flow always remains at the reference value. The insect has to make a forced landing against the wind, but a safe landing, because it takes place at a vertical speed of zero. Reactions of this type to a headwind have been described countless times in insects and even in birds. They are also observed on the microhelicopter each time it faces a laboratory-produced headwind, reinforcing the hypothesis that flying creatures have an optic flow regulator.

The very simple control scheme proposed takes into account 70 years of often surprising observations of the behavior of winged insects. It accounts for the fact not only that insects descend facing a headwind and ascend with a tailwind, but also that honeybees land with a constant slope and drown when crossing mirror-smooth water1.

Behind this astonishing behavior, hidden in the insect's cockpit, are movement detector neurons that act as optic flow sensors. The team patiently decoded the functioning of these neurons using ultra-fine microelectrodes (with a diameter of a thousandth of a millimeter) and a specially designed microscope. They then produced an electronic microcircuit based on this principle. The most recent version weighs only 0.2 grams. This is the neuron that does most of the work on board the microhelicopter.

The optic flow regulator helps explain how an insect manages to fly, even in unfavorable wind conditions, without measuring its ground height, groundspeed or descent speed, in other words without using any of the usual aircraft onboard flight aids like radar, GPS, radio-altimeters and variometers. An insect brain wouldn't cope with these cumbersome, heavy, energy-consuming devices.

This important work shows that this new science called biorobotics, that the team from Marseille star ted in 1985, is important both for fundamental and applied research. The method consists in using robotics models to test biological principles that are perceived only vaguely at the outset.

These hidden forces underlying animal behavior can then be understood more exactly by permanently shuttling between biology and robotics. These principles have been tried and tested for millions of years, and today they need to be applied to aerospace, because the phases in which an airship or a space module navigates close to the ground are absolutely crucial.

The researchers and CNRS have filed an international patent for the "fly automatic pilot".


'"/>

Source:CNRS


Related biology news :

1. Brains response to visual stimuli helps us to focus on what we should see, rather than all there is to see
2. Did feathered dinosaurs exist?
3. Study: Competition for sex is a jungle out there
4. Giant insects might reign if only there was more oxygen in the air
5. More species in the tropics because species have been there longer
6. With cellulosic ethanol, there is no food vs. fuel debate according to MSU scientist
7. Mindless autopilot drives people to underestimate food decisions
8. On automatic pilot
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:


(Date:4/5/2017)... -- Today HYPR Corp. , leading innovator in ... the HYPR platform is officially FIDO® Certified . ... that empowers biometric authentication across Fortune 500 enterprises and ... 15 million users across the financial services industry, however ... suites and physical access represent a growing portion of ...
(Date:4/3/2017)... April 3, 2017  Data captured by ... platform, detected a statistically significant association between ... to treatment and objective response of cancer ... to predict whether cancer patients will respond ... as well as to improve both pre-infusion potency ...
(Date:3/30/2017)... Trends, opportunities and forecast in this market ... (fingerprint, AFIS, iris recognition, facial recognition, hand geometry, vein ... use industry (government and law enforcement, commercial and retail, ... others), and by region ( North America ... Pacific , and the Rest of the World) ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/10/2017)... Oct. 10, 2017 International research firm Parks Associates ... speak at the TMA 2017 Annual Meeting , October 11 in ... the residential home security market and how smart safety and security products ... Parks Associates: Smart ... "The residential security market ...
(Date:10/9/2017)...  BioTech Holdings announced today identification and patenting ... stem cell therapy prevents limb loss in animal ... that treatment with ProCell resulted in more than ... to standard bone marrow stem cell administration.  Interestingly, ... of therapeutic effect.  ...
(Date:10/9/2017)... ... October 09, 2017 , ... ... medical journal, Epilepsia, Brain Sentinel’s SPEAC® System which uses the surface electromyography ... generalized tonic-clonic seizures (GTCS) using surface electromyography (sEMG). The prospective multicenter phase ...
(Date:10/6/2017)... (PRWEB) , ... October 06, 2017 , ... ... entrepreneurship within the healthcare and technology sector at their fourth annual Conference where ... featuring 30 inspiring speakers and the ELEVATE pitch competition showcasing early stage digital ...
Breaking Biology Technology: