Researchers have figured out how to make flies control tiny robots as they navigate obstacle courses. Is this the first step toward creating micro-robots for surveillance?

They did it by immersing a fly in a tiny version of the matrix - they glued the fly down, then placed it in the middle of a wraparound movie screen, flashing LEDs that made the fly think it was zooming around. As the fly sensed "obstacles," which corresponded to obstacles in the course the fly-controlled robot was in, the fly would bank to the right or left, and micro-changes in its wingbeats were recorded and fed to the robot.

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Over at IEEE Spectrum, Erico Guizzo writes:

The key component in their setup was a high-speed computer vision system that captured the beating of the fly's wings. It extracted parameters such as wing beat frequency, amplitude, position, and phase. This data, in turn, was used to drive the mobile robot. Closing the loop, the robot carried cameras and proximity sensors; an algorithm transformed this data stream into the light patterns displayed on the LED screen.

One of the researchers said the whole point of the experiment is to help "design better, bio-inspired robots," and that their findings would "be relevant to the tracking of micro and nano robots, where high relative velocities make them hard to follow and where robust visual position feedback is crucial for sensing and control." In other words, they're not designing robots to be controlled by flies. They're studying the way flies move to design robots that emulate flies - robots that will be controlled by humans.

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via IEEE Spectrum