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Robotics insights through flies' eyes
Date:7/31/2009

nse of what they see. Even the recognition of obstacles in their own work space takes too long. So people still need to protect their automated helpers, for example, by surrounding them with safety enclosures. Yet a more direct, supportive collaboration between human and machine is a central research goal of the "excellence cluster" named CoTeSys, Cognition for Technical Systems. This Munich-area research initiative was co-founded by around one hundred scientists and engineers from five universities and institutes.

Within the framework of CoTeSys, brain researchers from the Max-Planck Institute for Neurobiology are exploring how flies manage to apprehend their environment and their own movement so efficiently. They've built a flight simulator for flies under the leadership of neurobiologist Prof. Alexander Borst. Here, on a wraparound display, the researchers present diverse patterns, movements, and sensory stimuli to blow flies. The insect is held in place by a halter, so that electrodes can register the reactions of its brain cells. Thus the researchers observe and analyze what happens in a fly's brain when the animal whizzes in criss-cross flight around a room.

The first results show one thing very clearly: The way flies process the images from their immobile eyes is completely different from they way the human brain processes visual signals. Movements in space produce so-called "optical flux fields" that characterize specific kinds of motion definitively. In forward motion, for example, objects rush past on the sides, and foreground objects appear to get bigger. Near and distant objects appear to move differently. The first step for the fly is to construct a model of these movements in its tiny brain. The speed and direction with which objects before the fly's eyes appear to move generate, moment by moment, a typical pattern of motion vectors, the flux field, which in a second step is assessed by the so-called "lobula plate," a higher level
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Contact: Patrick Regan
regan@zv.tum.de
49-892-892-2743
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert  

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