Moth-inspired navigation algorithm in a turbulent odor plume from a pulsating source

Alexander Liberzon, Kyra Harrington, Nimrod Daniel, Roi Gurka, Ally Harari, Gregory Zilman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some female moths attract male moths by emitting series of pulses of pheromone filaments propagating downwind. The turbulent nature of the wind creates a complex flow environment, and causes the filaments to propagate in the form of patches with varying concentration distributions. Inspired by moth navigation capabilities, we propose a navigation strategy that enables a flier to locate an upwind pulsating odor source in a windy environment using a single threshold-based detection sensor. This optomotor anemotaxis strategy is constructed based on the physical properties of the turbulent flow carrying discrete puffs of odor and does not involve learning, memory, complex decision making or statistical methods. We suggest that in turbulent plumes from a pulsating point source, an instantaneously measurable quantity referred as a "puff crossing time", improves the success rate as compared to the navigation strategies based on temporally regular zigzags due to intermittent contact, or an "internal counter", that do not use this information. Using computer simulations of fliers navigating in turbulent plumes of the pulsating point source for varying flow parameters such as turbulent intensities, plume meandering and wind gusts, we obtained statistics of navigation paths towards the pheromone sources. We quantified the probability of a successful navigation as well as the flight parameters such as the time spent searching and the total flight time, with respect to different turbulent intensities, meandering or gusts. The concepts learned using this model may help to design odor-based navigation of miniature airborne autonomous vehicles.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0198422
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Liberzon et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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