Modulation of Flight Muscle Recruitment and Wing Rotation Enables Hummingbirds to Mitigate Aerial Roll Perturbations


Ravi S, Noda R, Gagliardi S, Kolomenskiy D, Combes S, Liu H, Biewener A, Konow N. Modulation of Flight Muscle Recruitment and Wing Rotation Enables Hummingbirds to Mitigate Aerial Roll Perturbations. Current Biology. 2020;30 (2) :187-195.e4.


Both biological and artificial fliers must contend with aerial perturbations that are ubiquitous in the outdoor environment. Flapping fliers are generally least stable, but also the most maneuverable in roll, yet roll control in biological fliers remains less well understood. Hummingbirds are suitable models for linking aerodynamic perturbations to flight control strategies, as these small, powerful fliers are capable of remaining airborne even in adverse airflows. We challenged hummingbirds to fly within a longitudinally oriented vortex that imposed a continuous roll perturbation, measured wing kinematics and neuromotor activation of the major flight muscles with synchronized high-speed video and electromyography and used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to estimate the aerodynamic forces generated by wing motions. Hummingbirds responded to the perturbation using bilaterally different activation of the main flight muscles and maintained symmetry in most major aspects of wing motion including stroke amplitude, stroke plane angle, and flapping frequency. However, hummingbirds also displayed consistent bilateral differences in subtle wing kinematics traits, including wing rotation and elevation. CFD modeling implicate asymmetric responses in wing rotation as important for generating the necessary stabilizing torques, suggesting that intrinsic wing muscles play a critical role in aerodynamic control. The birds also augment flight stabilization by adjusting body and tail posture to expose greater surface area to upwash than to the undesirable downwash. Our results provide insight into the remarkable capacity of hummingbirds to maintain flight control and bio-inspiration for simple yet effective control strategies for robotic fliers to contend with unfamiliar and challenging real-word aerial conditions.

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Last updated on 05/18/2020