Floris van Breugel: Designing autonomous flying robots from insect behavior - Biology

Floris van Breugel

Title

Designing Autonomous Flying Robots From Insect Behavior – Biology

Mentor

Floris van Breugel, Ph.D.

Department

Mechanical Engineering

Bio sketch

We study insects for inspiration in designing robust and novel control systems for robots. Our lab uses real time tracking, high speed video, and virtual reality to study freely moving animals. Then, aided by modern machine learning tools and control theory, we analyze the behavior, and implement the principles on robotic systems. Along the way, we use genetic tools available in the fruit fly to gain insight into how brains function.

Project overview

How animals integrate different kinds of sensory information together, over time, remains poorly understood. Sensory integration is a critical aspect of many important behaviors. One classic example that is common across taxa is following chemical or odor plumes to a food source or mate. Recent developments in genetic tools now make it possible to build a mechanistic understanding of this process using model systems like the fruit fly, which excel at plume tracking behaviors. We use optogenetics to remotely activate specific olfactory (or other) neurons in the fly’s brain to simulate a perfectly controlled olfactory experience. Using this tool, our lab aims to understand how different timings of olfactory stimuli are combined with wind stimuli to allow the fly to efficiently follow the plume. Ongoing research projects include experiments with flying and walking flies to address these questions.