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How flies land upside down inspires future robotics

Researchers from Penn State University have published a detailed description of how flying insects land upside-down, in order to lay down a benchmark that can inspire the development of future robots.

It might look simple –a fly landing on a surface in the blink of an eye. But when this is analyzed it is actually one of the most difficult and least-understood aerobatic maneuvers. The fly landing procedure is shown in the following video:

Understanding what a fly does is seen by many researchers as key to developing robots. However, to replicate this in robotics, the first step is to understand how the fly achieves this feat. The fly landing process requires a combination of biomechanical and sensory processes. The fly needs to evaluate different surfaces as well as moving objects.

Drosophila species fly.

Drosophila species fly.
Muhammad Mahdi Karim (GNU Free Documentation License)

To show this, bug data analytics were required. To amass the data, the scientists began by examining the flies’ inverted landing behaviors using a purposely designed flight chamber and employing using high-speed digital videography.

This analysis showed that the insects typically execute four perfectly timed maneuvers to land upside down. These stages are:

Increase of speed,
Completing a rapid body rotational maneuver,
Performing a sweeping leg extension,
Landing through a leg-assisted body swing as the feet of the fly contact with the ceiling.

The above actions also need to the support of various visual and sensory cues.

According to principal scientist Professor Jean-Michel Mongeau: “We look at nature for inspiration. This helps drive the fundamental science of engineering, to understand how flies are able to solve these problems so we can apply them to future technologies.”

The research has been published in the journal Science Advances, with the new research paper headed “Flies land upside down on a ceiling using rapid visually mediated rotational maneuvers.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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