Dragonflies could impart man some tips for unmanned robotic flights,
Australian researchers say. Learning how to see and fly like them dragonfly
could be the key to speeding up the development of micro-aerial vehicles.
The extraordinary flying ability of the dragonfly has been the subject of
ongoing research by Dr Richard Berry from the Centre for Visual Sciences at
Australian National University. He attributes their dazzling aerial control to
their remarkable vision.
"While true dragonflies are one of the oldest arthropods in existence, they
are also one of the most accomplished fliers known," said Dr Berry.
"What underlies their exceptional flight ability is excellent vision. Like
many other flying insects, dragonflies possess a triplet of eyes found on the
front and top of the head, known as the ocelli. The ocelli have long been
postulated to have a role in controlling flight stability. It could just be
that these eyes are the key for designers of tiny insect-size aircraft to learn
how to fly like a dragonfly," he said.
Dr Berry and his colleagues, Mr Joshua van Kleef and laboratory head Dr Gert
Stange have determined what the ocelli see by a variety of approaches.
"We started by literally peering through the lenses of the eyes to see what
sort of patterns could be seen through the other side. We then made a virtual
three-dimensional model to describe the shapes of the eyes," said Dr Berry.
The team have also developed a novel 'movie theatre' for dragonflies. This
movie theatre consists of hundreds of ultraviolet and green LEDs that encircle
the head of a dragonfly.
"We play different movies to the dragonflies, and
record what the cells in the eye do during each movie. The movies are really
just random patterns of light, but when we analyse the results we are able to
work out what each cell sees. The results show that the ocelli of dragonflies
are exceptionally well tuned to provide fast, sensitive and directionally
selective information about the world," he said.