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Fly-Catching Robot Developed By Stanford Scientists Speeds Biomedical Research

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A fruit fly hangs unharmed at the end of the robot's suction tube.

A new robotic system can inspect fruit flies and carry out behavioral experiments not previously possible.

Credit: Mark Schnitzer

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a robotic system that can automatically inspect fruit flies and carry out previously impossible behavioral experiments.

The study of fruit flies is one of the corner-stones of biomedical research, but the process is often incredibly tedious and time consuming for researchers.

The new Stanford robot consists of a very small apparatus suspended over a dish of flies. The robot uses flashes of infrared light to identify each individual fly by its reflection pattern. The robot can then "grab" individual flies by lowering a tiny suction tube that attaches to the fly's thorax, allowing it to be lifted and moved around. Once it has "grabbed" a fly, the robot can carry out a number of different operations, including using machine vision to analyze its physical attributes, sorting flies by sex, and even carrying out microdissections to view a fly's brain.

The robot is so good at recognizing the differences between flies that in one test it was able to differentiate between two strains of flies that are so similar that human researchers cannot tell them apart. Its ability to distinguish one fly from another will also allow the robot to conduct behavioral experiments on the flies that human researchers simply would not be able to do.

From Stanford News
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