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Description

The ability to autonomously track a fluid-borne odor has numerous engineering applications and natural occurrences. Engineering systems can use odor-guided navigation in tasks ranging from search and rescue to locating dangerous chemicals. Animals use odors to locate food and mates. For animals in strong unsteady turbulent flow environments where the wind is intermittent and occasionally vanishes, there is an ecological benefit to maintaining wind-driven tracking behavior. This has been shown in experiments performed using moths and cockroaches, where animals that began tracking odor in wind maintained their wind driven tracking behavior and eventually located the source after the wind was shut off during their tracking behavior. Here, we use RoboMoth, a previously developed 3D odor-tracking robot, to replicate these experiments. Our results can aid biologists in understanding how animals track odors in dynamic environments. In engineering, this study provides a first step in a hardware system towards linking odor tracking in strong wind environments to tracking in zero/low flow environments by studying the transition between the two regimes. This can help further engineers’ efforts to design odor-tracking systems capable of negotiating diverse and dynamic environments. Our study of the transition from using the wind as a primary directional cue to relying on odor and an established tracking direction appears to be novel in an engineering context and unique to our work.

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