By TETSUYA ISHIKURA/ Staff Writer
May 29, 2020 at 07:30 JST
The way mosquitoes avoid obstacles to find their targets while flying in the dark holds the secret to engineering better collision avoidance technology for autonomous aerial drones, a new study proposes.
It might even eventually lead scientists to find more effective ways to keep the pesky insects away from you in the summer months.
Mosquitoes can fly safely at night, it turns out, because the insects are able to feel the air currents generated by their flapping wings reflect off walls, floors and other objects. That is in contrast to the way bats fly safely at night by using echolocation to scan their surroundings.
Toshiyuki Nakata, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Chiba University, and his colleagues discovered mosquitoes sense the reflected air with their antennae, and that the method has practical applications for flight technology and even other areas of research.
“Tapping into the species’ habit, we may be able to find a way to keep mosquitoes away from humans,” said Nakata.
The findings have been published in the U.S. scientific journal Science at (https://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.aaz9634).
To analyze the mosquito’s flight navigation abilities, the researchers ran simulations on the way air currents produced by mosquito wing motions are affected and reflected by obstacles.
The results showed that the bugs can detect airflow 3 to 4 centimeters--or about 10 times the length of their body--ahead of them by taking advantage of their antennae in the same way the human eardrum works.
The scientists tested their theory by mounting a device that imitates the mosquito’s sensory functions on a drone.
That allowed it to detect air currents generated by its propellers and thereby identify nearby obstacles, namely walls and floors, without using ultrasonic waves or radar.
The researchers said they expect the nature-inspired discovery will prove helpful in developing better, practical flight technology for preventing aerial collisions.
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