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More complete exploration of flight landing maneuvers to advance future robots



To inspire advanced robotic technology, researchers from the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering have published the most complete description of how flying insects land upside down.

A fly that completes a series of complex maneuvers to land upside down on the ceiling.

A fly that completes a series of complex maneuvers to land upside down on the ceiling.

The article was published today (October 23) in Science Advances.

"Through this work, we seek to understand how a fly performs upside down landing maneuvers in the blink of an eye," said Bo Cheng, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and lead author of the article.

It is undoubtedly the most difficult and least understood acrobatic maneuver performed by flying insects, according to Cheng.

"Ultimately, we want to replicate this in engineering, but we need to understand first," Cheng said.

Together with Jean-Michel Mongeau, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, and Pan Liu, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, Cheng aims to understand the biomechanical and sensory processes that flies use to land on different surfaces such as ceilings and objects in movement.

“We look to 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. "

– Jean-Michel Mongeau, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

To gather their data, the team first examined the inverted landing behavior of flies in a flight chamber using high-speed videography. Their study found that insects usually perform four perfectly timed maneuvers to land upside down: they increase their speed, perform a fast rotating body maneuver (similar to a wagon wheel), perform an extensive leg extension, and finally land through leg-assisted assistance. the body rocks when the feet are firmly planted on the ceiling.

Researchers also believe that these actions are triggered by a series of complex visual and sensory clues that flies perceive as they approach the desired landing site.

"In the blink of an eye, these flies can completely invert body and earth, which is quite spectacular," Mongeau said. "We see it all the time happening around us, but we demonstrate the complexity of the maneuver. There is a lot of interest for robots to be able to do the same."

However, current robotic technology lacks much of the speed and efficiency required to perform the same maneuvers.

"We watch nature for inspiration," Mongeau said. "It helps propel the fundamental science of engineering, to understand how flies are able to solve these problems so we can apply them to future technologies."

Besides the advance of robotics, the implications of this work can also be applied to the field of neuroscience.

"How can a fly's nervous system do this so quickly?" Mongeau said. “This work reiterates the speed with which these maneuvers are performed within an extremely small nervous system. This data may lead to new hypotheses to understand how brains work. "

Project contributors include Sanjay P. Sane, an associate professor at the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, and Jianguo Zhao, an assistant professor in the state of Colorado. The work was funded by a $ 500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

/ Public Release. See in full here.


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