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Gyroscopic Function in Flies May Lead to Aeronautical Advancements

Findings by a research team from the University of Washington and supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research was recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The research reveals a club-like halteres sensor found in flies that is believed to have evolved from wings. Scientists have hypothesized concerning a gyroscopic sensor in flies for years; however, the University of Washington researchers are the first to provide legitimate proof.

This sensor allows the insect to fly with pristine accuracy. Flies are capable of maintaining stability and direction while performing aerial acrobatics. The sensors communicate data pertaining to the rotation of the body of the fly during flight. The data enables the fly to maneuver better than the most technological aircraft designed by man.

The team first designed a computational model of a fly. The computational design expanded into a robotic prototype with twin motors, pliable material and a moving wing. The model wing rotated similar in manner to a fly’s wing. The researchers concluded that the torsion causes the sensor to function as a gyroscope in nature.

Fighter jets apply tactics similar to fruit flies to elude enemy attacks. In another study at the University of Washington, researchers utilized high-speed video cameras to film the body and wing motions of the insects. During an impending threat the flies were seen maneuvering into a banked turn or rolling almost upside down. The flies are capable of changing course in less than one one-hundredth of a second. The researchers posted two laser beams in a cylindrical area of flies. When the flies passed through the laser beams, a shadow was triggered that caused the flies to take evasive action.

Star Wars technology may soon be realized. Many future aircraft pilots and engineers perhaps watched all six Star Wars films and dreamed of one day flying ships that could maneuver similar to the Death Star, Imperial Landing Craft, Raven’s Claw or a Rebel Blockade Runner. In the near future, engineers may design new improved wings for helicopters and drones. Aerospace engineers could soon utilize data from the University of Washington studies to develop aircraft, helicopters or drones with agile maneuvering capabilities.

*Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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