- Center for Studies in Physics and Biology Seminars
Gautam Nallamalla, Ph.D., Ph.D. student, University of California, San Diego
- Open to
- Melanie Lee
- (212) 327-8636
- Soaring birds often rely on ascending thermal plumes (thermals) in the atmosphere as they search for prey or migrate across large distances. How soaring birds find and navigate thermals is unknown. We used reinforcement learning to train gliders to navigate simulated convective turbulent flows. Lessons from simulations allowed us to teach a glider to navigate atmospheric thermals autonomously in the field. Gliders of two-meter wingspan were equipped with a flight controller that precisely controlled the bank angle and pitch, modulating these at intervals with the aim of gaining as much lift as possible. A navigational strategy was determined solely from the gliders’ pooled experiences collected over several days in the field. The strategy relies on methods to accurately estimate the local vertical wind accelerations and the roll-wise torques on the glider, which serve as navigational cues. We propose vertical wind accelerations and roll-wise torques as effective mechanosensory cues for soaring birds and provide a navigational strategy applicable to autonomous soaring vehicles.