In the University of Washington’s Biology and Aeronautics & Astronautics departments, WRF Innovation Fellow Eatai Roth investigates how animals use sensory information to navigate through and interact with their environments.
Roth applies tools from engineering to study flight behaviors in the hawkmoth Manduca sexta. In recent work, Roth has studied how moths follow a robotically controlled artificial flower while feeding, as they would in nature when a flower sways in the wind. The moth proboscis, the long straw-like mouth part which draws nectar from the flower, is covered with sensory bristles that encode bending. Roth discovered that moths combine this proboscis-bending information with visual cues to control flight while feeding in windy conditions.
The WRF fellowship is supporting Roth in developing a novel virtual reality arena for studying how insects adapt flight to changes in the environment or their own bodies—such as sudden weight gain from feeding. This research addresses fundamental questions in neuroscience and reveals biological control principles that can be translated to engineered systems, such as autonomous robots and flying vehicles.