Scientists have created a research environment by inspiring how the blow fly's extremely quick eyesight helps to keep it from losing orientation as it makes 'lightning-fast' movements to and fro.
Members of a Munich-based "excellence cluster", called Cognition for Technical Systems (CoTeSys), describe their invention as a flight simulator for flies.
The researchers say that they are investigating what goes on in flies' brains while they're flying, hoping to some day put similar capabilities in human hands.
They are hopeful that their work may one day aid in developing robots that can independently apprehend and learn from their surroundings.
A blow fly can perceive 100 images per second, and interpret them quickly enough to steer its movement and precisely determine its position in space.
Given that the fly's brain is hardly bigger than a pinhead, scientists have to date believed that it must have a simpler and more efficient way of processing images from the eyes into visual perception, and that is a subject of intense interest for robot builders.
Within the framework of CoTeSys, brain researchers from the Max-Planck Institute for Neurobiology are exploring how flies manage to apprehend their environment and their own movement so efficiently.
Led by neurobiologist Prof. Alexander Borst, the research team have made a flight simulator for flies.
On a wraparound display, the researchers present diverse patterns, movements, and sensory stimuli to blow flies.
They hold the insect in place by a halter so as to enable electrodes to register the reactions of its brain cells, something that would, in turn, help them analyze what happens in a fly's brain when the animal whizzes in criss-cross flight around a room.
Thus far, the researchers have observed that the way flies process the images from their immobile eyes is completely different from they way the human brain processes visual signals.
The researchers believe that insights gained from their flight simulator for flies may offer an approach that might be simple enough to be technically portable from one domain to the other, from the insects to the robots.