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Steady as She Goes: Visual Autocorrelators and Antenna-Mediated Airspeed Feedback in the Control of Flight Dynamics in Fruit Flies and Robotics


Fuller, Sawyer Buckminster (2011) Steady as She Goes: Visual Autocorrelators and Antenna-Mediated Airspeed Feedback in the Control of Flight Dynamics in Fruit Flies and Robotics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z3D0-GG27.


Achieving agile autonomous flight by an insect-sized micro aerial vehicle (MAV) will require improved technology that is radically smaller, lighter, and more power-efficient. One animal that has solved the problem is the fly, a virtuoso among insect flyers whose nervous system can perform sophisticated aerial maneuvers under severe computational constraints. This thesis is concerned with understanding and emulating the dynamics of the fly's feedback control system. Because vision is noisy and information rich, processing time may a problem for a fast-moving MAV or fly. By tracking the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster in free flight in gusts of wind, I found that they incorporate feedback from wind-sensing antennae in a fast feedback loop that dampens the forward-flight dynamics. The slower dynamics are easier to control for long-delay visual feedback, making the fly more robust to the limitations of its visual system. Using the fly as inspiration, I designed a minimal, visual autocorrelation based controller that used a small array of visual sensors to stabilize a fan-actuated hovercraft robot in a narrow corridor. Using a model for correlators developed for the robot, I showed that a uniform array of visual correlators was sufficient to explain the free-flight velocity regulation behavior of flies, rather than a different model. In addition to illustrating the benefits of concurrent scientific analysis and engineering synthesis, the results give new insight into how to control small biological and man-made flying vehicles using limited, noisy sensors.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:bioinspired engineering, antenna, drosophila, micro-aerial vehicle, sensory fusion, correlator
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Bioengineering
Minor Option:Control and Dynamical Systems
Electrical Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Murray, Richard M. (advisor)
  • Dickinson, Michael H. (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Murray, Richard M. (chair)
  • Burdick, Joel Wakeman
  • Straw, Andrew
  • Dickinson, Michael H.
Defense Date:26 May 2011
Additional Information:Title varies in the 2011 Commencement Program: Steady As She Goes: Visual Autocorrelators and Airspeed Feedback in the Reflexive Control of Flight Dynamics in Fruit Flies and Robotics.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NSF Graduate Research FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
Army Research Office--Institute for Collaborative BiotechnologiesDAAD19-03-D-0004
Record Number:CaltechThesis:06082011-191034348
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:6510
Deposited By: Sawyer Fuller
Deposited On:18 Mar 2014 15:46
Last Modified:16 Apr 2020 16:47

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