Royal Society Publishing

Behavioural system identification of visual flight speed control in Drosophila melanogaster

Nicola Rohrseitz, Steven N. Fry


Behavioural control in many animals involves complex mechanisms with intricate sensory-motor feedback loops. Modelling allows functional aspects to be captured without relying on a description of the underlying complex, and often unknown, mechanisms. A wide range of engineering techniques are available for modelling, but their ability to describe time-continuous processes is rarely exploited to describe sensory-motor control mechanisms in biological systems. We performed a system identification of visual flight speed control in the fruitfly Drosophila, based on an extensive dataset of open-loop responses previously measured under free flight conditions. We identified a second-order under-damped control model with just six free parameters that well describes both the transient and steady-state characteristics of the open-loop data. We then used the identified control model to predict flight speed responses after a visual perturbation under closed-loop conditions and validated the model with behavioural measurements performed in free-flying flies under the same closed-loop conditions. Our system identification of the fruitfly's flight speed response uncovers the high-level control strategy of a fundamental flight control reflex without depending on assumptions about the underlying physiological mechanisms. The results are relevant for future investigations of the underlying neuromotor processing mechanisms, as well as for the design of biomimetic robots, such as micro-air vehicles.


    • Received April 15, 2010.
    • Accepted May 12, 2010.
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