Brains are amazing, and I mean all brains, not just the human one. As little as 5000 neurones are sufficient to a fruitfly to control its flight, a feat that requires millions of software code lines and a huge amount of power in a commercial aircraft.
Scientists, researchers and engineers are extremely interested in understanding how an apparently simple set of neurones can be so efficient. They would like to “see” how these neurones actually work when the fly is … flying. Clearly this is beyond current technology possibilities.
Here comes FreemoVR, a software and an environment developed at the University of Friburg at the Straw Lab.
A team of researchers has developed a way to create a virtual reality perception to animals that are standing still, thus soliciting their brain to react as if they were actually moving although being still they can be examined. Alternatively, the fly is presented with a simulated virtual reality environment and its movements are studied in the different conditions.
On the one hand the artificial reality makes the fruitfly “believe” it is actually flying and by presenting different kind of obstacles its brain processes the information and activates the appropriate actions for avoidance, or presenting a flower the fruitfly brain will direct the wings to fly towards the flower…
At the Straw Lab scientists are experimenting on flies, mice and fish (zebra fish) using Virtual Reality hoping to learn more on how neurones perform their magic. Since neurones are neurones (theoretically you can swap a neurone from a fruitfly with one of yours and you won’t be able to tell the difference…) what is being learnt from these studies can open up a door to understand our own brain.