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:6/14/2017)... , June 15, 2017  IBM (NYSE: IBM ) is ... tech event dedicated to developing collaboration between startups and global ... June 15-17. During the event, nine startups will showcase the ... in various industries. France ... international market, with a 30 percent increase in the number ...
(Date:5/6/2017)... May 5, 2017 RAM Group ... a new breakthrough in biometric authentication based on ... mechanical properties to perform biometric authentication. These new sensors ... material created by Ram Group and its partners. This ... transportation, supply chains and security. Ram Group is ...
(Date:4/17/2017)... NXT-ID, Inc. (NASDAQ: NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or the ... Annual Report on Form 10-K on Thursday April 13, 2017 with ... ... Relations section of the Company,s website at http://www.nxt-id.com  under "SEC ... . 2016 Year Highlights: Acquisition ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/9/2017)... Phoenix, Arizona (PRWEB) , ... October 09, 2017 ... ... of Kindred, a four-tiered line of medical marijuana products targeting the needs of ... production and packaging of Kindred takes place in Phoenix, Arizona. , As operators ...
(Date:10/7/2017)... ... October 06, 2017 , ... ... for microscopy and surface analysis, Nanoscience Instruments is now expanding into Analytical ... broad range of contract analysis services for advanced applications. Services will leverage ...
(Date:10/7/2017)... Mass. , Oct. 6, 2017  The ... work of three scientists, Jacques Dubochet, Joachim ... breakthrough developments in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) ... technology within the structural biology community. The winners ... Scientists can now routinely produce highly resolved, three-dimensional ...
(Date:10/6/2017)... , ... October 06, 2017 , ... ... a lunch discussion and webinar on INSIGhT, the first-ever adaptive clinical trial for ... Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The event is free and open to the public, but ...
Breaking Biology Technology: