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AFOSR: Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas (NIFTI)

Sean Humbert
Tom Daniel (University of Washington)
Mark Willis (Case Western Reserve University)

Funding Agency 

Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Description 

The Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas (NIFTI) will conduct research into how animals move, navigate and use their senses, and create solutions for challenging engineering and technological problems related to building small, remotely operated aircraft. It is housed at the Univerity of Washington, and in addition to Maryland researchers, includes faculty from Case Western Reserve University and international partners like Imperial College, University of Bristol, University of Sussex and Oxford University in the U.K. and Lund University in Sweden.

The NIFTI center, one of six AFOSR COEs nationwide, is funded by the U.S. Air Force for up to $9 million over six years. It will focus on three main research areas:

Locating objects. Researchers will look at how animals are able to find prey, a mate or food sources by encoding and processing information through their senses.

Navigating in complex environments. Insects and bats often fly in windy and crowded spaces, skillfully avoiding collisions. Scientists will study how their neurological and physiological systems function to allow them to move in these ways.

Navigating in sensory-deprived environments. Animals often fly in low light or nearly complete darkness, and in places where their ability to smell and hear might be compromised. Researchers will look more broadly at how animals use sensory information and how they make decisions about flight under different contexts.

Learning from the behavior of insects and animals could inspire more advanced micro-air vehicles, or small, flying robots. These could be used in difficult search-and-rescue missions, to help detect explosives or mines when it would be too dangerous for humans to go on foot or in vehicles, and for environmental monitoring.