Spare a moment for the humble fly and his aerobatic feats

Fly (see large) by kaibara87 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

(kaibara87/Flickr)

Upon seeing a fly, the first thought that pops into most people’s minds is:

SWAT IT!!!!

When you swat that fly, though, you’re swatting a biological machine that in many respects makes the electromechanical machines (read: robots) that we make look less than crude by comparison.

That’s the message I walked away with after watching a TEDxCalTech talk by University of Washington biologist and “fly guy” Michael Dickinson. I’d never really thought before about the aerodynamics and sheer information processing power that go into the acrobatic feats I see flies attain as I chase them around my kitchen with a rolled up magazine or flyswatter.

But none of our machines can detect a threat and take evasive action in less time than a single blink of a human eye.

Take a few minutes and see for yourself. And afterwards tell me what you think of Dickinson’s final plea:

Think before you swat.

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