The Robot Fly is the first to avoid obstacles using optic flow like flies do.
Nicolas Franceschini devoted his academic career to the study of the flies' visual system. In 1979, he created the neurocybernetics research group at the University of Tubingen in Germany. Now known as the Biorobotics Group at Aix Marseille University, this research team has strongly contributed to the understanding of the physiological and behavioral properties of the visual system of flying insects like flies and bees. As the result of 20 years of research, the very first fly-inspired and fully autonomous ground robot was introduced in the late 1980s. The Robot Fly was equiped with 116 elementary motion detectors (EMD) that provided the robot with optic flow measurements in a cluttered environment.
The Robot Fly weighted approximatively 11kg and was able to move up to 50cm/s in cluttered spaces. It was equiped with a bionic compound eye made of 116 EMDs mimicking the physiological response of ommatidia in the fly's compound eye which were sensitive to optic flow. This sensory mode allowed the Robot Fly to navigate at maximal speed based on phototaxis reflexes while avoiding obstacles randomly distributed on the ground.
Small brains, smart machines : from fly vision to robot vision and back again. Franceschini, N. (2014). Proceedings of the IEEE, 102(5), 751–781, May 2014, ISSN :0018-9219.
From insect vision to robot vision. Franceschini, N., Pichon, J. M., Blanes, C., Brady, J. M., Barlow, H. B., Frisby, J. P., Horridge, G. A., & Jeeves, M. A. (1992). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B : Biological Sciences, 337(1281), 283-294.
Bionics of visuo-motor control. Franceschini, N., Pichon, J. M., & Blanes, C. (1997). Evolutionary Robotics: From Intelligent Robots to Artificial Life, (T. Gomi, ed.), AAI Books, Ottawa, Canada, 49-67.