Injured fruit flies use corrective movements to maintain stability: Research

During a recent study, researchers found that fruit flies can quickly compensate for catastrophic wing injuries while maintaining the same stability after losing up to 40 percent of a wing. This finding could inform the design of versatile robots, which face the similar challenge of quickly adapting to disasters in the field.

The Penn State-led team published their results in Science Advances. To conduct the experiment, the researchers changed the length of the wings of anesthetized fruit flies, mimicking an injury flying insects might suffer. They then suspended the flies in a virtual reality ring. Mimicking what the flies would see in flight, the researchers played virtual images on small screens in the ring, causing the flies to move as if they were flying.

“We found that flies compensate for their injuries by flapping the damaged wing harder and slowing down the healthy wing,” said corresponding author Jean-Michel Mongeau, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State. “They achieve this by modulating signals in their nervous system, allowing them to adjust their flight even after an injury,” he added.

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By flapping their damaged wing harder, fruit flies trade off some performance — which decreases only slightly — to maintain stability by actively increasing damping. “If you drive on a paved road, friction is maintained between the tires and the surface, and the car is stable,” Mongeau said, comparing damping to friction.

“But on an icy road, there is a decrease in friction between the road and the tires, causing instability. In this case, a fruit fly, like the driver, actively increases the damping with its nervous system in an attempt to increase stability ,” he added. Co-author Bo Cheng, Penn State’s Kenneth K. and Olivia J. Kuo Early Career Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, noted that stability is more important than power for flight performance.

“To the detriment, both performance and stability would normally suffer; however, flies use an ‘internal damper’ that increases damping to maintain the desired stability, even if this leads to further performance degradation,” Cheng said, adding , “In fact, it has been shown that it is actually the stability, rather than the power required, that limits the flies’ maneuverability.” The researchers’ work suggests that fruit flies, with only 200,000 neurons compared to 100 billion in humans, use a system of sophisticated and flexible motor control, allowing them to adapt and survive after an injury.

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“The complexity we have discovered here in flies is unmatched by any existing engineering system; the sophistication of the fly is more complex than existing flying robots,” said Mongeau. “We’re still a long way off on the engineering side of trying to replicate what we see in nature, and this is just another example of how far we have to go,” he added.

With increasingly complex environments, engineers are challenged to design robots that can quickly adapt to mistakes or disasters. “Flying insects can inspire the design of flapping robots and drones that can intelligently respond to physical damage and maintain operations,” said co-author Wael Salem, a Penn State doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, adding, “For for example, designing a drone that can compensate for a broken motor in flight or a legged robot that can lean on its other leg when someone drops.”

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To study the mechanism by which flies compensate for wing damage during flight, collaborators at the University of Colorado Boulder created a robotic prototype of a mechanical wing, similar in size and function to that of a fruit fly. The researchers broke off the mechanical wing, replicating Penn State’s experiments, and tested the interactions between the wings and the air.

“With only a mathematical model, we have to make simplifying assumptions about wing structure, wing motion and wing-air interactions to make our calculations tractable,” said co-author Kaushik Jayaram, assistant professor of mechanical engineering . at the University of Colorado Boulder. He added, “But with a physical model, our prototype robot interacts with the natural world just like a fly, subject to the laws of physics. So this setup captures the intricacies of complex wing-air interactions that we don’t yet understand. completely”. (ANI)

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated source.)

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