Watch: Robot Beams Up Fruit Flies Like a UFO

Wednesday, 27 May 2015 - 4:22PM
Weird Science
Robotics
Wednesday, 27 May 2015 - 4:22PM
Watch: Robot Beams Up Fruit Flies Like a UFO
For their newest robot, Stanford didn't exactly invent the tractor beam, but it certainly looks like it. In a new study, biomedical researchers unveiled a robot that beams up fruit flies like a cinematic UFO in order to gather data for medical research:



The video shows the robot behaving like a combination of an alien spaceship and claw crane, picking up individual flies, analyzing their physical attributes, and then letting them go, completely unharmed. Using this machine, the Stanford team was able to study 1,000 flies in a mere ten hours, a feat that would have taken much longer for even the most efficient human to perform.

"The robot's fly-snatching apparatus looks like nothing so much as a miniature UFO hovering over a plate of unsuspecting flies," Stanford University said in a statement"When it's ready to grab a fly, it flashes a brief infrared blast of light that is invisible to the flies and reflects off the animals' thoraxes, indicating the location of each inhabitant. The robot can recognize each individual fly by its reflection pattern. Then, a tiny, narrow suction tube strikes one of the illuminated thoraxes, painlessly sucking onto the fly and lifting it up."

Fruit flies have been key to biological research, particularly in the genetics field, since the beginning of the 20th century. But since they're tiny and can fly, they're not particularly easy to control, and so were generally anesthetized while researchers gathered their data. So the machine not only saves valuable man hours, but also allows scientists to perform behavioral research that they have never been able to do before.

"Robotic technology offers a new prospect for automated experiments and enables fly researchers to do several things they couldn't do previously," said lead author Mark Schnitzer. "For example, it can do studies with large numbers of flies inspected in very precise ways."
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