The Neural Representation of Aeroelasticity

Mechanosensation is a crucial sensory modality for motor-control. As we walk, we feel the ground to adjust our gaits, stagger to save a misstep, and catch ourselves when we trip. Similarly, for flying animals, sensing the air is like feeling the ground for us. Fluid sensing is a form of mechanosensation that is largely understudied, partly because fluid is difficult to characterize and mechanosensors are often inaccessible for in vivo measurements. Flying insects offer a great system for understanding the neural representation of aerodynamics. With our recent success of in-flight neural recording via an ultralight wireless backpack on the dragonfly, we can start to eavesdrop on mechanosensory signals during insect flight. This research has direct implications for the emerging fly-by-feel control (flight control using mechanosensory data) for aerial robots and also sets the stage for studying aerial interactions in animals and machines.

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