In this video, a fruit fly steers a small robot through an obstacle course. The researchers at ETH Zurich's Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems glued a fly down in front of an array of LEDs and flashed patterns that tricked it into thinking it was flying. Data from a computer vision system trained on the fly's wings was then translated into commands for the mobile robot in the obstacle course. The robot was outfitted with sensors that triggered the appropriate light patterns on the LEDs. The whole shebang is called The Cyborg Fly. From IEEE Spectrum:
"As autonomous robots get smaller, their size and speed approach that of the biological counterparts from which they are often inspired," they write in the paper, adding that their technique could "be relevant to the tracking of micro and nano robots, where high relative velocities make them hard to folow and where robust visual position feedback is crucial for sensing and control…"
The Cyborg Fly is not the only "flight simulator" for bugs, and other research groups have used insects to control robots. But still, the ETH project stands out because of its high-speed vision component. This system could be useful not only for biology research, to study insect flight and track fast movements of appendages or the body, but also for industrial applications — for monitoring a production line or controlling fast manipulators, for example.