Rules to fly by: pigeons navigating horizontal obstacles limit steering by selecting gaps most aligned to their flight direction.
ABSTRACT: Flying animals must successfully contend with obstacles in their natural environments. Inspired by the robust manoeuvring abilities of flying animals, unmanned aerial systems are being developed and tested to improve flight control through cluttered environments. We previously examined steering strategies that pigeons adopt to fly through an array of vertical obstacles (VOs). Modelling VO flight guidance revealed that pigeons steer towards larger visual gaps when making fast steering decisions. In the present experiments, we recorded three-dimensional flight kinematics of pigeons as they flew through randomized arrays of horizontal obstacles (HOs). We found that pigeons still decelerated upon approach but flew faster through a denser array of HOs compared with the VO array previously tested. Pigeons exhibited limited steering and chose gaps between obstacles most aligned to their immediate flight direction, in contrast to VO navigation that favoured widest gap steering. In addition, pigeons navigated past the HOs with more variable and decreased wing stroke span and adjusted their wing stroke plane to reduce contact with the obstacles. Variability in wing extension, stroke plane and wing stroke path was greater during HO flight. Pigeons also exhibited pronounced head movements when negotiating HOs, which potentially serve a visual function. These head-bobbing-like movements were most pronounced in the horizontal (flight direction) and vertical directions, consistent with engaging motion vision mechanisms for obstacle detection. These results show that pigeons exhibit a keen kinesthetic sense of their body and wings in relation to obstacles. Together with aerodynamic flapping flight mechanics that favours vertical manoeuvring, pigeons are able to navigate HOs using simple rules, with remarkable success.
Project description:Individuals traversing challenging obstacles are faced with a decision: they can adopt traversal strategies that minimally disrupt their normal locomotion patterns or they can adopt strategies that substantially alter their gait, conferring new advantages and disadvantages. We flew pigeons (Columba livia) through an array of vertical obstacles in a flight arena, presenting them with this choice. The pigeons selected either a strategy involving only a slight pause in the normal wing beat cycle, or a wings-folded posture granting reduced efficiency but greater stability should a misjudgment lead to collision. The more stable but less efficient flight strategy was not used to traverse easy obstacles with wide gaps for passage but came to dominate the postures used as obstacle challenge increased with narrower gaps and there was a greater chance of a collision. These results indicate that birds weigh potential obstacle negotiation strategies and estimate task difficulty during locomotor pattern selection.
Project description:To manoeuvre in air flying animals produce asymmetric flapping between contralateral wings. Unlike the adjustable vertebrate wings, insect wings lack intrinsic musculature, preventing active control over wing shape during flight. However, the wings elastically deform as a result of aerodynamic and inertial forces generated by the flapping motions. How these elastic deformations vary with flapping kinematics and flight performance in free-flying insects is poorly understood. Using high-speed videography, we measured how contralateral wings elastically deform during free-flight manoeuvring in rose chafer beetles (<i>Protaetia cuprea</i>). We found that asymmetric flapping during aerial turns was associated with contralateral differences in chord-wise wing deformations. The highest instantaneous difference in deformation occurred during stroke reversals, resulting from differences in wing rotation timing. Elastic deformation asymmetry was also evident during mid-strokes, where wing compliance increased the angle-of-attack of both wings, but reduced the asymmetry in the angle-of-attack between contralateral wings. A biomechanical model revealed that wing compliance can increase the torques generated by each wing, providing higher potential for manoeuvrability, while concomitantly contributing to flight stability by attenuating steering asymmetry. Such stability may be adaptive for insects such as flower chafers that need to perform delicate low-speed landing manoeuvres among vegetation.
Project description:Flapping flight places strenuous requirements on the physiological performance of an animal. Bird flight muscles, particularly at smaller body sizes, generally contract at high frequencies and do substantial work in order to produce the aerodynamic power needed to support the animal's weight in the air and to overcome drag. This is in contrast to terrestrial locomotion, which offers mechanisms for minimizing energy losses associated with body movement combined with elastic energy savings to reduce the skeletal muscles' work requirements. Muscles also produce substantial power during swimming, but this is mainly to overcome body drag rather than to support the animal's weight. Here, I review the function and architecture of key flight muscles related to how these muscles contribute to producing the power required for flapping flight, how the muscles are recruited to control wing motion and how they are used in manoeuvring. An emergent property of the primary flight muscles, consistent with their need to produce considerable work by moving the wings through large excursions during each wing stroke, is that the pectoralis and supracoracoideus muscles shorten over a large fraction of their resting fibre length (33-42%). Both muscles are activated while being lengthened or undergoing nearly isometric force development, enhancing the work they perform during subsequent shortening. Two smaller muscles, the triceps and biceps, operate over a smaller range of contractile strains (12-23%), reflecting their role in controlling wing shape through elbow flexion and extension. Remarkably, pigeons adjust their wing stroke plane mainly via changes in whole-body pitch during take-off and landing, relative to level flight, allowing their wing muscles to operate with little change in activation timing, strain magnitude and pattern.
Project description:Previous work has shown that wing wear increases mortality in bumblebees. Although a proximate mechanism for this phenomenon has remained elusive, a leading hypothesis is that wing wear increases predation risk by reducing flight manoeuvrability. We tested the effects of simulated wing wear on flight manoeuvrability in Bombus impatiens bumblebees using a dynamic obstacle course designed to push bees towards their performance limits. We found that removing 22% wing area from the tips of both forewings (symmetric wear) caused a 9% reduction in peak acceleration during manoeuvring flight, while performing the same manipulation on only one wing (asymmetric wear) did not significantly reduce maximum acceleration. The rate at which bees collided with obstacles was correlated with body length across all treatments, but wing wear did not increase collision rate, possibly because shorter wingspans allow more room for bees to manoeuvre. This study presents a novel method for exploring extreme flight manoeuvres in flying insects, eliciting peak accelerations that exceed those measured during flight through a stationary obstacle course. If escape from aerial predation is constrained by acceleration capacity, then our results offer a potential explanation for the observed increase in bumblebee mortality with wing wear.
Project description:Flies achieve supreme flight maneuverability through a small set of miniscule steering muscles attached to the wing base. The fast flight maneuvers arise from precisely timed activation of the steering muscles and the resulting subtle modulation of the wing stroke. In addition, slower modulation of wing kinematics arises from changes in the activity of indirect flight muscles in the thorax. We investigated if these modulations can be described as a superposition of a limited number of elementary deformations of the wing stroke that are under independent physiological control. Using a high-speed computer vision system, we recorded the wing motion of tethered flying fruit flies for up to 12,000 consecutive wing strokes at a sampling rate of 6250 Hz. We then decomposed the joint motion pattern of both wings into components that had the minimal mutual information (a measure of statistical dependence). In 100 flight segments measured from 10 individual flies, we identified 7 distinct types of frequently occurring least-dependent components, each defining a kinematic pattern (a specific deformation of the wing stroke and the sequence of its activation from cycle to cycle). Two of these stroke deformations can be associated with the control of yaw torque and total flight force, respectively. A third deformation involves a change in the downstroke-to-upstroke duration ratio, which is expected to alter the pitch torque. A fourth kinematic pattern consists in the alteration of stroke amplitude with a period of 2 wingbeat cycles, extending for dozens of cycles. Our analysis indicates that these four elementary kinematic patterns can be activated mutually independently, and occur both in isolation and in linear superposition. The results strengthen the available evidence for independent control of yaw torque, pitch torque, and total flight force. Our computational method facilitates systematic identification of novel patterns in large kinematic datasets.
Project description:Insects are conventionally modelled as controlling flight by varying a few summary kinematic parameters that are defined on a per-wingbeat basis, such as the stroke amplitude, mean stroke angle and mean wing pitch angle. Nevertheless, as insects have tens of flight muscles and vary their kinematics continuously, the true dimension of their control input space is likely to be much higher. Here, we present a compact description of the deforming wing kinematics of 36 manoeuvring <i>Eristalis</i> hoverflies, applying functional principal components analysis to Fourier series fits of the wingtip position and wing twist measured over 26 541 wingbeats. This analysis offers a high degree of data reduction, in addition to insight into the natural kinematic couplings. We used statistical resampling techniques to verify that the principal components (PCs) were repeatable features of the data, and analysed their coefficient vectors to provide insight into the form of these natural couplings. Conceptually, the dominant PCs provide a natural set of control input variables that span the control input subspace utilized by this species, but they can also be thought of as output states of the flight motor. This functional description of the wing kinematics is appropriate to modelling insect flight as a form of limit cycle control.
Project description:How do flying birds respond to changing environments? The behaviour of budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus, was filmed as they flew through a tapered tunnel. Unlike flying insects-which vary their speed progressively and continuously by holding constant the optic flow induced by the walls-the birds showed a tendency to fly at only two distinct, fixed speeds. They switched between a high speed in the wider section of the tunnel, and a low speed in the narrower section. The transition between the two speeds was abrupt, and anticipatory. The high speed was close to the energy-efficient, outdoor cruising speed for these birds, while the low speed was approximately half this value. This is the first observation of the existence of two distinct, preferred flight speeds in birds. A dual-speed flight strategy may be beneficial for birds that fly in varying environments, with the high speed set at an energy-efficient value for flight through open spaces, and the low speed suited to safe manoeuvring in a cluttered environment. The constancy of flight speed within each regime enables the distances of obstacles and landmarks to be directly calibrated in terms of optic flow, thus facilitating simple and efficient guidance of flight through changing environments.
Project description:A theoretical model of avian flight is developed which simulates wing motion through a class of methods known as predictive simulation. This approach uses numerical optimization to predict power-optimal kinematics of avian wings in hover, cruise, climb and descent. The wing dynamics capture both aerodynamic and inertial loads. The model is used to simulate the flight of the pigeon, Columba livia, and the results are compared with previous experimental measurements. In cruise, the model unearths a vast range of kinematic modes that are capable of generating the required forces for flight. The most efficient mode uses a near-vertical stroke-plane and a flexed-wing upstroke, similar to kinematics recorded experimentally. In hover, the model predicts that the power-optimal mode uses an extended-wing upstroke, similar to hummingbirds. In flexing their wings, pigeons are predicted to consume 20% more power than if they kept their wings full extended, implying that the typical kinematics used by pigeons in hover are suboptimal. Predictions of climbing flight suggest that the most energy-efficient way to reach a given altitude is to climb as steeply as possible, subjected to the availability of power.
Project description:Multisensory integration is a prerequisite for effective locomotor control in most animals. Especially, the impressive aerial performance of insects relies on rapid and precise integration of multiple sensory modalities that provide feedback on different time scales. In flies, continuous visual signalling from the compound eyes is fused with phasic proprioceptive feedback to ensure precise neural activation of wing steering muscles (WSM) within narrow temporal phase bands of the stroke cycle. This phase-locked activation relies on mechanoreceptors distributed over wings and gyroscopic halteres. Here we investigate visual steering performance of tethered flying fruit flies with reduced haltere and wing feedback signalling. Using a flight simulator, we evaluated visual object fixation behaviour, optomotor altitude control and saccadic escape reflexes. The behavioural assays show an antagonistic effect of wing and haltere signalling on visuomotor gain during flight. Compared with controls, suppression of haltere feedback attenuates while suppression of wing feedback enhances the animal's wing steering range. Our results suggest that the generation of motor commands owing to visual perception is dynamically controlled by proprioception. We outline a potential physiological mechanism based on the biomechanical properties of WSM and sensory integration processes at the level of motoneurons. Collectively, the findings contribute to our general understanding how moving animals integrate sensory information with dynamically changing temporal structure.
Project description:Flapping flight is one of the most costly forms of locomotion in animals. To limit energetic expenditures, flying insects thus developed multiple strategies. An effective mechanism to reduce flight power expenditures is the harvesting of kinetic energy from motion of the surrounding air. We here show an unusual mechanism of energy harvesting in an insect that recaptures the rotational energy of air vortices. The mechanism requires pronounced chordwise wing bending during which the wing surface momentary traps the vortex and transfers its kinetic energy to the wing within less than a millisecond. Numerical and robotic controls show that the decrease in vortex strength is minimal without the nearby wing surface. The measured energy recycling might slightly reduce the power requirements needed for body weight support in flight, lowering the flight costs in animals flying at elevated power demands. An increase in flight efficiency improves flight during aversive manoeuvring in response to predation and long-distance migration, and thus factors that determine the worldwide abundance and distribution of insect populations.