PhD Candidate, Case Western Reserve University
Bio-inspired drone technology requires a model system to emulate. What better system than flies?
Bio-inspired technology requires first and foremost an understanding of how the natural system behaves. What better model exists to base drone technology on than a fly?
Flies are able to perform complex acrobatic maneuvers because they possess specialized sensory organs called halteres. The flies' halteres are modified hind-wings that are used to detect body rotations during flight. Sensory information detected by halteres is rapidly transmitted to both the wings and the neck. This allows the fly to precisely and directly control the position of their head and body in space.
How is the nervous system of a fly able to function so quickly and precisely? How do flies differentiate between external forces (e.g. a gust of wind) and self-generated movement (e.g. actively turning)? My research investigates these questions and begins to unravel how flies are able to encode such rapid and diverse types of motions in 3 dimensions.
Abstract: The halteres of dipteran insects (true flies) are essential mechanosensory organs for flight. These are modified hindwings with several arrays of sensory cells at their base, and they are one of the characteristic features of flies. Mechanosensory information from the halteres is sent with low latency to wing-steering and head movement motoneurons, allowing direct control of body position and gaze. Analyses of the structure and dynamics of halteres indicate that they experience very small aerodynamic forces but significant inertial forces, including Coriolis forces associated with body rotations. The sensory cells at the base of the haltere detect these forces and allow the fly to correct for perturbations during flight, but new evidence suggests that this may not be their only role. This review will examine our current understanding of how these organs move, encode forces, and transmit information about these forces to the nervous system to guide behavior.
Pub.: 15 Jul '16, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: The halteres of flies are mechanosensory organs that provide information about body rotations during flight. We measured haltere movements in a range of fly taxa during free walking and tethered flight. We find a diversity of wing-haltere phase relationships in flight, with higher variability in more ancient families and less in more derived families. Diverse haltere movements were observed during free walking and were correlated with phylogeny. We predicted that haltere removal might decrease behavioural performance in those flies that move them during walking and provide evidence that this is the case. Our comparative approach reveals previously unknown diversity in haltere movements and opens the possibility of multiple functional roles for halteres in different fly behaviours.
Pub.: 26 Nov '15, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: Each time a locomoting fly turns, the visual image sweeps over the retina and generates a motion stimulus. Classic behavioral experiments suggested that flies use active neural-circuit mechanisms to suppress the perception of self-generated visual motion during intended turns. Direct electrophysiological evidence, however, has been lacking. We found that visual neurons in Drosophila receive motor-related inputs during rapid flight turns. These inputs arrived with a sign and latency appropriate for suppressing each targeted cell's visual response to the turn. Precise measurements of behavioral and neuronal response latencies supported the idea that motor-related inputs to optic flow-processing cells represent internal predictions of the expected visual drive induced by voluntary turns. Motor-related inputs to small object-selective visual neurons could reflect either proprioceptive feedback from the turn or internally generated signals. Our results in Drosophila echo the suppression of visual perception during rapid eye movements in primates, demonstrating common functional principles of sensorimotor processing across phyla.
Pub.: 04 Aug '15, Pinned: 13 Sep '17
Abstract: Flies display a sophisticated suite of aerial behaviours that require rapid sensory-motor processing. Like all insects, flight control in flies is mediated in part by motion-sensitive visual interneurons that project to steering motor circuitry within the thorax. Flies, however, possess a unique flight control equilibrium sense that is encoded by mechanoreceptors at the base of the halteres, small dumb-bell-shaped organs derived through evolutionary transformation of the hind wings. To study the input of the haltere system onto the flight control system, I constructed a mechanically oscillating flight arena consisting of a cylindrical array of light-emitting diodes that generated the moving image of a 30 degrees vertical stripe. The arena provided closed-loop visual feedback to elicit fixation behaviour, an orientation response in which flies maintain the position of the stripe in the front portion of their visual field by actively adjusting their wing kinematics. While flies orientate towards the stripe, the entire arena was swung back and forth while an optoelectronic device recorded the compensatory changes in wing stroke amplitude and frequency. In order to reduce the background changes in stroke kinematics resulting from the animal's closed-loop visual fixation behaviour, the responses to eight identical mechanical rotations were averaged in each trial. The results indicate that flies possess a robust equilibrium reflex in which angular rotations of the body elicit compensatory changes in both the amplitude and stroke frequency of the wings. The results of uni- and bilateral ablation experiments demonstrate that the halteres are required for these stability reflexes. The results also confirm that halteres encode angular velocity of the body by detecting the Coriolis forces that result from the linear motion of the haltere within the rotating frame of reference of the fly's thorax. By rotating the flight arena at different orientations, it was possible to construct a complete directional tuning map of the haltere-mediated reflexes. The directional tuning of the reflex is quite linear such that the kinematic responses vary as simple trigonometric functions of stimulus orientation. The reflexes function primarily to stabilize pitch and yaw within the horizontal plane.
Pub.: 26 Jun '99, Pinned: 13 Sep '17
Abstract: Using three-dimensional infrared high-speed video, we captured the wing and body kinematics of free-flying fruit flies as they performed rapid flight maneuvers. We then "replayed" the wing kinematics on a dynamically scaled robotic model to measure the aerodynamic forces produced by the wings. The results show that a fly generates rapid turns with surprisingly subtle modifications in wing motion, which nonetheless generate sufficient torque for the fly to rotate its body through each turn. The magnitude and time course of the torque and body motion during rapid turns indicate that inertia, not friction, dominates the flight dynamics of insects.
Pub.: 19 Apr '03, Pinned: 13 Sep '17
Abstract: The halteres of Dipteran insects play an important role in flight control. They are complex mechanosensory devices equipped with approximately 400 campaniform sensilla, cuticular strain gauges, which are organized into five fields at the base of each haltere. Despite the important role of these mechanosensory structures in flight, the central organization of the sensory afferents originating from the different field campaniforms has not been determined. We show here that in the blow fly, Calliphora vicina, sensory afferents from the campaniform fields project to the thorax in a region-specific manner. Afferents from different fields have different projection profiles and in addition, the projection pattern of afferents from different regions of the same field may show further variation. However, central target regions of these afferents are not exclusive to particular sensory fields because cells from different fields can possess similar projection profiles. Convergence of afferent projections is not limited to axons from the haltere fields, but is also observed between afferents originating from the haltere fields and those from serially homologous fields on the radial vein of the wing. Although we have not determined the specific cellular targets of the haltere sensory cells, the afferents of a dorsal field could make potential contact with at least one identified wing steering motoneuron that is known to be important in turning maneuvers. Our results, thus, provide the anatomical basis for studying how mechanosensory information encoded by the complex fields on the base of the haltere is mapped onto different functional regions within the CNS.
Pub.: 03 Jun '96, Pinned: 13 Sep '17
Abstract: Using high-speed videography, we investigated how fruit flies compensate for unilateral wing damage, in which loss of area on one wing compromises both weight support and roll torque equilibrium. Our results show that flies control for unilateral damage by rolling their body towards the damaged wing and by adjusting the kinematics of both the intact and damaged wings. To compensate for the reduction in vertical lift force due to damage, flies elevate wingbeat frequency. Because this rise in frequency increases the flapping velocity of both wings, it has the undesired consequence of further increasing roll torque. To compensate for this effect, flies increase the stroke amplitude and advance the timing of pronation and supination of the damaged wing, while making the opposite adjustments on the intact wing. The resulting increase in force on the damaged wing and decrease in force on the intact wing function to maintain zero net roll torque. However, the bilaterally asymmetrical pattern of wing motion generates a finite lateral force, which flies balance by maintaining a constant body roll angle. Based on these results and additional experiments using a dynamically scaled robotic fly, we propose a simple bioinspired control algorithm for asymmetric wing damage.
Pub.: 16 Dec '16, Pinned: 13 Sep '17
Abstract: To navigate through the world, animals must stabilize their path against disturbances and change direction to avoid obstacles and to search for resources [1, 2]. Locomotion is thus guided by sensory cues but also depends on intrinsic processes, such as motivation and physiological state. Flies, for example, turn with the direction of large-field rotatory motion, an optomotor reflex that is thought to help them fly straight [3-5]. Occasionally, however, they execute fast turns, called body saccades, either spontaneously or in response to patterns of visual motion such as expansion [6-8]. These turns can be measured in tethered flying Drosophila [3, 4, 9], which facilitates the study of underlying neural mechanisms. Whereas there is evidence for an efference copy input to visual interneurons during saccades , the circuits that control spontaneous and visually elicited saccades are not well known. Using two-photon calcium imaging and electrophysiological recordings in tethered flying Drosophila, we have identified a descending neuron whose activity is correlated with both spontaneous and visually elicited turns during tethered flight. The cell's activity in open- and closed-loop experiments suggests that it does not underlie slower compensatory responses to horizontal motion but rather controls rapid changes in flight path. The activity of this neuron can explain some of the behavioral variability observed in response to visual motion and appears sufficient for eliciting turns when artificially activated. This work provides an entry point into studying the circuits underlying the control of rapid steering maneuvers in the fly brain.
Pub.: 11 Apr '17, Pinned: 13 Sep '17
Abstract: The movement of the halteres during fixed flight was video recorded under stroboscopic illumination phase coupled to the wing beat. The halteres swing in a rounded triangular manner through an angle of almost 80° in vertical planes tilted backwards from the transverse plane by ca. 30° (Figs. 1, 2).The physics of the halteres are described in terms of a general formula for the force acting onto the endknob of the moving haltere during rotations and linear accelerations of the fly (Eq. 1). On the basis of the experimentally determined kinematics of the haltere, the primary forces and the forces dependent on angular velocity and on angular acceleration are calculated (Figs. 3, 4).Three distinct types of angular velocity dependent (Coriolis) forces are generated by rotations about 3 orthogonal axes. Thus, in principle one haltere could detect all rotations in space (Fig. 6).The angular acceleration dependent forces have the same direction and frequency as the Coriolis forces, but they are shifted in phase by 90°. Thus, they could be evaluated in parallel and independently from the Coriolis forces. They are, however, much smaller than the Coriolis forces for oscillation frequencies of the fly up to 20 Hz (Fig. 5). From these considerations it is concluded that Coriolis forces play the major role in detecting body rotations.
Pub.: 01 Sep '93, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: We quantitatively analysed compensatory head reactions of flies to imposed body rotations in yaw, pitch and roll and characterized the haltere as a sense organ for maintaining equilibrium. During constant velocity rotation, the head first moves to compensate retinal slip and then attains a plateau excursion (Fig. 3). Below 500°/s, initial head velocity as well as final excursion depend linearily on stimulus velocities for all three axes. Head saccades occur rarely and are synchronous to wing beat saccades (Fig. 5). They are interpreted as spontaneous actions superposed to the compensatory reaction and are thus not resetting movements like the fast phase of ‘vestibulo-ocular’ nystagmus in vertebrates. In addition to subjecting the flies to actual body rotations we developed a method to mimick rotational stimuli by subjecting the body of a flying fly to vibrations (1 to 200 μm, 130 to 150 Hz), which were coupled on line to the fly's haltere beat. The reactions to simulated Coriolis forces, mimicking a rotation with constant velocity, are qualitatively and to a large extent also quantitatively identical to the reactions to real rotations (Figs. 3, 7–9). Responses to roll- and pitch stimuli are co-axial. During yaw stimulation (halteres and visual) the head performs both a yaw and a roll reaction (Fig. 3e,f), thus reacting not co-axial. This is not due to mechanical constraints of the neck articulation, but rather it is interpreted as an ‘advance compensation’ of a banked body position during free flight yaw turns (Fig. 10).
Pub.: 01 Dec '94, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: Animals use information from multiple sensory organs to generate appropriate behavior. Exactly how these different sensory inputs are fused at the motor system is not well understood. Here we study how fly neck motor neurons integrate information from two well characterized sensory systems: visual information from the compound eye and gyroscopic information from the mechanosensory halteres. Extracellular recordings reveal that a subpopulation of neck motor neurons display "gating-like" behavior: they do not fire action potentials in response to visual stimuli alone but will do so if the halteres are coactivated. Intracellular recordings show that these motor neurons receive small, sustained subthreshold visual inputs in addition to larger inputs that are phase locked to haltere movements. Our results suggest that the nonlinear gating-like effect results from summation of these two inputs with the action potential threshold providing the nonlinearity. As a result of this summation, the sustained visual depolarization is transformed into a temporally structured train of action potentials synchronized to the haltere beating movements. This simple mechanism efficiently fuses two different sensory signals and may also explain the context-dependent effects of visual inputs on fly behavior.
Pub.: 23 Oct '09, Pinned: 13 Sep '17
Abstract: The halteres of dipteran insects are essential sensory organs for flight control. They are believed to detect Coriolis and other inertial forces associated with body rotation during flight. Flies use this information for rapid flight control. We show that the primary afferent neurons of the haltere's mechanoreceptors respond selectively with high temporal precision to multiple stimulus features. Although we are able to identify many stimulus features contributing to the response using principal component analysis, predictive models using only two features, common across the cell population, capture most of the cells' encoding activity. However, different sensitivity to these two features permits each cell to respond to sinusoidal stimuli with a different preferred phase. This feature similarity, combined with diverse phase encoding, allows the haltere to transmit information at a high rate about numerous inertial forces, including Coriolis forces.
Pub.: 06 Feb '10, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: Halteres, the modified rear wings of Diptera, have long been recognized as sensory organs necessary for basic flight stability. These organs, which act as vibrating structure gyroscopes, are known to sense strains proportional to Coriolis accelerations. While compensatory responses have been demonstrated that indicate the ability of insects to distinguish all components of the body rate vector, the specific mechanism by which the halteres are able to decouple the body rates has not been clearly understood. The research documented in this report describes a potential mechanism, using averaged strain and strain rate at the center of the haltere stroke, to decouple the inertial rate components. Through dynamic simulation of a nonlinear model of the haltere 3-dimensional trajectory, this straightforward method was demonstrated to provide an accurate means of generating signals that are proportional to three orthogonal body rate components. Errors associated with residual nonlinearity and rate-coupling were quantified for a bilaterally reconstructed body rate vector over a full range of pitch and yaw rates and two roll rate conditions. Models that are compatible with insect physiology are proposed for performing necessary signal averaging and bilateral processing.
Pub.: 18 Nov '08, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: Dipteran flight requires rapid acquisition of mechanosensory information provided by modified hindwings known as halteres. Halteres experience torques resulting from Coriolis forces that arise during body rotations. Although biomechanical and behavioral data indicate that halteres detect Coriolis forces, there are scant data regarding neural encoding of these or any other forces. Coriolis forces arise on the haltere as it oscillates in one plane while rotating in another, and occur at oscillation frequency and twice the oscillation frequency. Using single-fiber recordings of haltere primary afferent responses to mechanical stimuli, we show that spike rate increases linearly with stimulation frequency up to 150 Hz, much higher than twice the natural oscillation frequency of 40 Hz. Furthermore, spike-timing precision is extremely high throughout the frequency range tested. These characteristics indicate that afferents respond with high speed and high precision, neural features that are useful for detecting Coriolis forces. Additionally, we found that neurons respond preferentially to specific stimulus directions, with most responding more strongly to stimulation in the orthogonal plane. Directional sensitivity, coupled with precise, high-speed encoding, suggests that haltere afferents are capable of providing information about forces occurring at the haltere base, including Coriolis forces.
Pub.: 30 Aug '08, Pinned: 31 Jul '17
Abstract: The spectacular success and diversification of insects rests critically on two major evolutionary adaptations. First, the evolution of flight, which enhanced the ability of insects to colonize novel ecological habitats, evade predators, or hunt prey; and second, the miniaturization of their body size, which profoundly influenced all aspects of their biology from development to behavior. However, miniaturization imposes steep demands on the flight system because smaller insects must flap their wings at higher frequencies to generate sufficient aerodynamic forces to stay aloft; it also poses challenges to the sensorimotor system because precise control of wing kinematics and body trajectories requires fast sensory feedback. These tradeoffs are best studied in Dipteran flies in which rapid mechanosensory feedback to wing motor system is provided by halteres, reduced hind wings that evolved into gyroscopic sensors. Halteres oscillate at the same frequency as and precisely antiphase to the wings; they detect body rotations during flight, thus providing feedback that is essential for controlling wing motion during aerial maneuvers. Although tight phase synchrony between halteres and wings is essential for providing proper timing cues, the mechanisms underlying this coordination are not well understood. Here, we identify specific mechanical linkages within the thorax that passively mediate both wing-wing and wing-haltere phase synchronization. We demonstrate that the wing hinge must possess a clutch system that enables flies to independently engage or disengage each wing from the mechanically linked thorax. In concert with a previously described gearbox located within the wing hinge, the clutch system enables independent control of each wing. These biomechanical features are essential for flight control in flies.
Pub.: 22 Jan '15, Pinned: 31 Jul '17