Characterization of Insect Flight Control Systems

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This is a joint project with Michael Dickinson, funded by the ARO Institute for Collaborative Biotechnology. This page primarily describes the work done in Richard Murray's group.

Current participants:
  • None
Past participants:
  • Andrea Censi (PhD student, CDS)
  • Sawyer Fuller (PhD student, BE)
  • Shuo Han (PhD student, EE)
  • Sean Humbert (U. Maryland)
  • Francisco Zabala (MS student, CDS)


Bio-inspired visio-motor control. This figure shows the results of an insect-inspired, vision-based control algorithm. A set of wide-field integration kernels are used to react to the environment. The upper figure shows an integration kernel (blue) used for corridor following. The optical flow when centered in the corridor is shown as a dashed line and the integral of the product of these two functions is zero when the system is centered in the corridor. The lower figure shows the application of this same integration kernel to a cluttered environment, allowing motion that avoids obstacles.

The current global objective of the project is to characterize and mathematically formalize (i.e. reverse engineer) the sensory-motor control system of the fly to a degree that its salient features can be used for the design of micro air vehicles and other autonomous systems of interest to the military. Toward this high-level goal, we are characterizing through direct experimentation and modeling the key components of the flight control system including (1) take-off, (2) robustness to wind gusts, (3) chemical tracking, and (4) sensory fusion (of visual and gyroscopic input). In most of our research we are using the common fruit fly, Drosophila, as our model system for studying and extracting flight control algorithms and architecture.