There is probably no better engineer on earth to take tips from than nature — and that’s exactly what a new center studying animal flight at the University of Washington intends to do.
The UW center is one of six nationwide funded by the Air Force to “focus on how elements in nature can help solve challenging engineering and technological problems related to building small, remotely operated aircraft.”
“Our goal is to reverse-engineer how natural systems accomplish challenging tasks,” said the center’s director Tom Daniel, a UW biology professor, in a UW statement. “We are really trying to push hard on next-generation robotic systems and technologies that draw on how biology solves problems of control, complex maneuvering and manipulation.”
Officially called the Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas, or NIFTI, it will be housed within UW’s Department of Biology in partnership with the College of Engineering, with ties to the UW Institute for Neuroengineering and the UW eScience Institute.
According to UW, the center will focus on three main areas: Locating objects (how animals find prey, mates and food); navigating complex environments (especially windy or crowded ones); and navigating in sensory-deprived environments (flying in low or no light, or where senses may be compromised).
Researchers are hoping that by studying animal behavior they can then develop more advanced micro-air vehicles, or small, flying robots, that will make it easier to send in search-and-rescue or bomb-detection missions, which can save humans from going in.
Watch the video on the new center here: