RESEARCH

Overall Research Goals

Complex and intellectually challenging problems can be so commonplace that they escape our attention. The research in my lab focuses on one such everyday phenomenon – the motion of a fly through the air. While the buzz of fly wings is more likely to elicit a sense of annoyance than wonder, insect flight behavior links a series of fundamental processes within both the physical and biological sciences: neuronal signaling within brains, the dynamics of unsteady fluid flow, the structural mechanics of composite materials, and the behavior of complex nonlinear systems. The aim of my research is to elucidate the means by which flies accomplish their aerodynamic feats. A rigorous mechanistic description of flight requires an integration of biology, engineering, fluid mechanics, and control theory. The long term goal, however, is not simply to understand the material basis of insect flight, but to develop its study into a model that can provide insight to the behavior and robustness of complex systems in general.

Aerodynamics and Flight Control

Brain Recordings in Behaving Animals

Animal Robot Interactions

Visual Navigation

The main way that flies maintain stable flight is through sensory feedback from their visual system and their mechanosensory haltere system. The halteres are modifications of the hindwings (recall that dragonflies have four wings, while “true” flies are defined by having only two) into complex sensors that detect Coriolis forces proportional to the angular velocity of the fly. Thus, if a freely flying fly were to be rotated by an external force such as wind, its visual system would be capable of detecting this rotation, but the haltere system would also be stimulated, and is capable of initiating a compensatory response even in the absence of visual feedback. The halteres and visual system act in a complementary fashion, as the rotational frequency bandpass characteristics of each ensure that no matter how slowly or quickly the fly rotates, at least one of these two systems will be sensitive to the rotation (the halteres are most sensitive to fast rotations while the visual system responds better to slower rotations). The Rock-n-Roll arena allows us to quantitatively assess the relative contributions from these two systems to equilibrium flight control. Additionally, studies are currently underway to elucidate the role these two sensory systems play in terminating the rapid turns observed in free flight, called saccades.

 

LAB INSTRUMENTS

Robotic Fly via 2-DOF Fivebar Mechanism (Colosseum).
Robotic Fly via 1-DOF Motorarm Mechanism (Racetrack).
Laser Galvo Actuation and Tracking System (Bigtop).
Capacitive Feeding Sensor/Detector with 32 channels (Flypad)
Field Arena for Wild Tracking (Rotcam).
LED Panels for Visual Stimulus.
Heat Barrier Arena using Temperature Control.
Free Flight Arena with High-Speed Video Capture.
Spheretrax.
Infrared Lighting Systems.
Dynamically-Scaled Flapping Robot (Robofly)
Translating Flapping Robotic (Bride of Robofly)
Free Flight Arena (Fly-O-Rama)
Visual Flight Simulator (Fly-O-Vision)
Mechanical Flight Simulator (Rock-n-Roll Arena)
3D High Speed Infrared Videography
Flying Patch Clamp