Introduction / How do flies fly? / How do flies turn? / Michael Dickinson / Robofly
How do flies turn?
To understand how and why flies turn, Dickinson and his team have devised several ingenious "flight simulators."
After tethering fruit flies to steel rods, scientists place them inside devices that make them think they are flying.
"It's virtual reality for flies," says Dickinson.
One flight simulator studies the effects of vision on turning and lets the scientists see how flies respond to simulated visual landscapes.
Another device, called the "rock and roll" simulator, studies how a fly's motion affects how and when it turns. The device rocks a fly back and forth to trick its tiny gyroscopes into thinking the fly is turning. With both devices, the scientists can study the flies' wing motions as they make simulated turns.
The scientists can also play tricks on the flies to see a variety of wing motions. For example, Dickinson says they can make the flies think they have "power steering," by making a small wing motion lead to a dramatic change in the visual landscape.
But how do flies' vision and gyroscopes work together?
In the coming months, Dickinson's lab will build a new device to integrate the vision and turning experiments. Like a virtual reality harness from the film "The Lawnmower Man," the new device will allow a fly to spin in all directions while seeing high-resolution computer graphics of simulated landscapes.
video: flight simulator
video: virtual reality arena source: Michael Dickinson
To understand flies' flight mechanics and behavior, Dickinson and his team observe free-flying fruit flies in the "Fly-o-Rama."
Researchers place flies in an enclosed chamber and use cameras to track the flies' flight paths in three dimensions.
As they travel through space searching for food, the flies seem to make a series of amazing 90-degree turns.
Dickinson is now trying to determine how much of their turning is guided by vision, and how much is determined by their gyroscopes.
video: what Dickinson has learned from flight experiments
Copyright 2000 Jason Spingarn-Koff. Diagrams: Michael H. Dickinson, UC Berkeley