Nature is an inexhaustible source of unique engineering solutions, which is once again convinced by an international team of scientists led by Professor Richard Bomfrey of the Royal Veterinary College in London. They studied the sensory mechanism of the male Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito, which helped them recreate the insect's ability to detect obstacles using airflow.
The researchers were primarily interested in how these insects navigate in pitch darkness. As it turned out, this is possible thanks to the so-called mechanosensitivity - the ability to detect obstacles without the participation of the organs of vision. Unlike bats that use biological echolocation, the "radar" mosquito consists of wings that create airflow and sensitive antenna receptors.
Mosquitoes in flight flap their wings at a high frequency (up to 1000 Hz), creating air currents. When streams collide with obstacles, their configuration changes, which is immediately fixed by many receptors - Johnston's organs. This gives the insect the opportunity to build a picture of the surrounding space.
To understand how this works, the scientists took high-frequency recordings of the mosquito's flight and then analyzed the results using computational fluid dynamics models. They found that Johnston's organs were ideally positioned to measure changes in flow patterns because the pressure drops were greatest over the mosquito's head, and mosquitoes worked best at low altitudes.
The research results became the basis for the creation of a miniature sensor device, which the researchers equipped a small quadcopter. During the flight, the drone with its help detected obstacles and walls of the room at a safe distance, practically not wasting time on data processing.