Seed money for this project was provided by the National Geographic Society Waitts Foundation (W17-08). This funding allowed us to collect pilot data that was instrumental at demonstrating proof-of-concept for a grant to the National Science Foundation (NSF DBI-0951010).

The NSF is the major Federal institution that funds basic research. Our work is funded by the Behavioral Systems branch of NSF, which is tasked with understanding the development, mechanisms, and evolution of animal behavior. NSF has extremely rigorous merit review criteria for funding research, and typically only about 10% of proposals to any given group at NSF are funded.

We were awarded $390,000 for the 4-year study. Our universities (like all US universities), charge almost all federally-funded projects for about 33% of the funds in overhead to maintain buildings, utilities, provide student scholarships for needy students, etc. We then spend the other $260,000 over four years ($65,000 per year). Most of those funds go towards supporting biology and engineering students who help conduct research on the project (see Student Researchers), and learn how to become biologists and engineers. Some of these funds also go towards paying the tuition of graduate students. This is the basic way we train and fund graduate and undergraduate students in the United States, regardless of the project or scientific field. Thus, basic research funds from NSF allow us not only to learn more about how the natural world around us works, but to also train and educate the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Some media sites recently mischaracterized our funding and project as a three hundred thousand dollar effort to build a robotic squirrel. This was so widespread that we posted a brief fact sheet about the funding to try to counter this misinformation. Biorobotics is certainly a key tool in our arsenal, but it is not a very expensive one.  We build different robotic models for different experiments, and we place small computers in each of them to collect data and control the models.  We also build mechanical parts that help us deploy the robot under different field conditions, like tracks and platforms. The “robosquirrel” featured in the widely-circulated robosquirrel video cost about $500 to make.  Our total robotics-technology parts and supplies budget for the entire 4-year study is $13,700.