Funding Agency

National Science Foundation




Associate Professor Sarah Bergbreiter (ME/ISR) and two colleagues from Northwestern University, Professor L. Catherine Brinson and Professor Mitra Hartmann, have been awarded a $1,000,000 grant to better understand how animals gather information through the sense of touch and then use this information to perform complex behaviors. At Maryland, Bergbreiter will be developing artificial, modular, reconfigurable whiskers that imitate the functions of animal whiskers.  The University of Maryland’s portion of the grant is $320,000.

The whiskers will be mounted on robotic platforms that can mimic the head movements of animals, contributing to the development of novel robots and sensors that use touch to sense an object’s location, shape, and texture, to track fluid wakes in water, and to sense the direction of airflow.

“Engineering arrays of sensors to serve as physical models of a rat's whiskers will allow us to better understand the connections between what a rat senses and its actions,” Bergbreiter says. “Using this understanding, we can design robots with the ability to explore dark areas or work in other challenging environments that require a sense of touch or flow.”

It is one of 19 new research grants announced Aug. 8 by the National Science Foundation through its Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems (NCS) program. The grants are an indication of the university’s current and growing strengths in brain and behavior research, robotics and mechanical and electrical engineering. Maryland's portion of these grants is worth more than $1.2 million.