Computerized monitoring of free-flying bugs utilizing a cable-driven robotic



Flying insects have evolved to develop efficient strategies for navigating natural environments. However, it is difficult to study experimentally because of their small size and high moving speed. As a result, previous studies have been limited to connected flights, hovering flights, or restricted flights in cramped laboratory chambers. Here we report on the development of a cable-operated parallel robot called Lab-on-Cables for tracking and interacting with a free-flying insect. In this approach, cameras are mounted on cables to automatically move with the insect. We have developed a reactive controller that minimizes the online tracking error between the position of the flying insect, provided by an embedded stereo vision system, and the position of the moving laboratory, calculated from the cable lengths. We have validated the Lab-on-Cable with Agrotis ipsilon moths (approx. 2 cm long), which fly freely up to 3 m per second. We used recorded trajectories to demonstrate the possibility of tracking other insects such as fruit flies or mosquitoes. The lab-on-cable is relevant for free flight studies and can be used in combination with the stimulus delivery to evaluate the sensory modulation of flight behavior (e.g. pheromone-controlled anemotaxis in moths).