The National Science Foundation has awarded Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Floris van Breugel a $2 million grant to adapt autonomous robots to be as resilient as fruit flies. Resiliency in autonomous robotic systems is crucial, especially for robotics systems that are used in disaster response and surveillance. Unfortunately, modern robots have difficulty responding to new environments or damage to their bodies that might occur during disaster response, van Breugel wrote in his grant application. In contrast, living systems are remarkably adept at quickly adjusting their behavior to new situations thanks to redundancy and flexibility within their sensory and muscle control systems.

Scientific discoveries in fruit flies have helped shed light on how these insects achieve resiliency in flight, according to van Breugel. His project will translate that emerging knowledge on insect neuroscience to develop more resilient robotic systems.