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UW leading $7.5 million study of animal flight and aerial vehicles
Date:9/30/2010

The Office of Naval Research has awarded a five-year, $7.5 million grant to a multi-university consortium led by the UW. The goal of the project is to study birds, insects and bats in order to develop aerial vehicles that can adapt to obstacles and fly in unpredictable conditions such as zooming through dense forests or landing on moving objects.

"Autonomous vehicles currently have to fly in open spaces or in very controlled environments," said principal investigator Kristi Morgansen, UW associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. "We're trying to make them more effective at operating in environments that are really cluttered, that are low-light, or around other moving objects."

Today, the unpiloted vehicles that operate in more challenging surroundings are remotely operated by humans. In the future, a flying vehicle operated without human direction could be smaller, lighter and have faster response times, Morgansen said. A truly autonomous vehicle would also be cheaper to operate and easier deploy quickly in situations such as disaster relief.

With the aim of creating that future, the new project will investigate how animals sense their surroundings and use that information to control their movement. The researchers will also look at balancing short-term navigation, such as avoiding obstacles or countering gusts of wind, with long-term goals, such as reaching a final destination.

"Biological organisms solve these problems fairly well, and they can do it in a lot of operating parameters that we just cannot do with engineered systems," Morgansen said. "Biological systems have very simple sensors, but they have lots of them. How do they use them? Is this something we can leverage for engineered systems?"

The multi-institutional team includes researchers at the UW, Boston University, the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Research groups at all four institutions are working at the int
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Contact: Hannah Hickey
hickeyh@uw.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert  

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UW leading $7.5 million study of animal flight and aerial vehicles
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