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Researchers Invent 3D Printed Robot Lab to Study Fruit Flies

Picture of Bulent Yusuf
by Bulent Yusuf
Oct 20, 2017
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Thanks to researchers from Imperial College London, scientists can now 3D print a Raspberry Pi-powered mini lab to study fruit flies.

Researchers from Imperial College London have invented a robotic lab that can detect and profile the behaviour of thousands of fruit-flies in real-time. And of course, it’s made with 3D printing and Raspberry Pi.

A mini robotic lab to study the behavior of fruit flies is made with 3D printing and Raspberry Pi.

The researchers built the Pi-powered robotics lab — called an Ethoscope — to scale up their analyses of fruit flies; the insects are a popular proxy for scientists to study human genes and the wiring of the brain.

“It may appear surprising, but fruit flies are smart animals and they can do pretty much everything humans do,” says PhD student Quentin Geissmann, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial.

“Fruit flies know how to look for food, shelter and mating partners; they learn to avoid predators and aggressive mates; they communicate, court and engage in social lives.”

The Raspberry Pi-based ethoscope uses machine vision to study animal behavior. It offers scientists a modular open source design that can be built with 3D printed components for around €100 per ethoscope.

The ethoscope can also be customized for a range of different scenarios, according to Geissman. “We can programme the machine to send stimuli to the flies only when they behave in a certain way, for example the robots can be programmed to give flies rewards only if they complete a learned task.”

Fruit Flies and the Science of Sleep

Besides the Raspberry Pi, the ethoscope requires a HD camera and a 3D printed frame with various compartments. They team have also provided designs and instructions for creating the frame with LEGO or folded cardboard.

The Raspberry Pi and camera are located at the top for observing and recording a “behavioral arena” deck at the bottom, which is illuminated by an infrared LED light. They offer eight behavioral arena 3D print designs for different types of studies, such as sleep analysis, decision making, and feeding.

“Fruit flies are smart animals and they can do pretty much everything humans do.”

Each ethoscope is powered via USB and can be controlled from a PC through a web interface. The Raspberry Pi offloads data to PCs over wifi for analysis. This also ensures experiments aren’t constrained by storage capacity on the Raspberry Pi.

On the software side, they used a supervised machine learning algorithm to develop a tracking module. There’s also a real-time behavioral annotator which automatically labels different states of activity; these include walking, making micro-movements like eating or laying an egg, and not moving.

Head of the lab, Dr Giorgio Gilestro, said: “The ethoscope is going to provide neuroscientists with a very new powerful tool to study, for instance, the biology of learning and memory or the function of sleep.”

Keen to learn more? Read the full study here, and find the open source blueprints to build your own mini robot lab here.

Source: Imperial College London

fruit flies

License: The text of "Researchers Invent 3D Printed Robot Lab to Study Fruit Flies" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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