Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No… It’s a Bat Bot!

Researchers at one of the world’s leading research universities, the California Institute of Technology (CIT), appear to have cracked the incredibly difficult task of artificially recreating the wing motions of a bat. Together with peers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne (UIUC), the scientists have created a robot which accurately mimics the complex movements of a bat’s wings during flight. This impressive breakthrough comes after long periods of frustration in trying to create a robot which could match a bat’s agility and power in the air.

The Bat Bot – as the new development is being called – is a soft-winged, self-contained robotic bat, which has become a reality thanks to the leadership of Soon-Jo Chung, Associate Professor of Aerospace, along with Bren Scholar, of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at CIT. Scholar also works as a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on behalf of NASA.

Chung, who is a recent addition to the faculty at CIT – having arrived as recently as August of last year – combined his work with that of his postdoctoral associate Alireza Ramezani from UIUC, along with Seth Hutchinson, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, also at UIUC. The breakthrough was announced in a paper, authored by Chung, and published in the journal Science Robotics at the start of this week. The journal is the latest addition to the Science line of Journals, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Chung believes that the robot will help when it comes to the design and manufacture of safer and more efficient flying robots. Weighing a mere 93 grams, and with a wingspan of around one foot, the Bat Bot can change the shape of its wings by twisting its shoulders, wrists, legs and elbows. Like a bat’s musculoskeletal system, the robot is capable of movement in over 40 rotational directions.

The soft wings’ shape-changing capability is possible to the development of an ultra-thin, 56-micron, silicone-based membrane, that offers more flexibility than traditional fabrics such as nylon and Mylar. The development of the Bat Bot offers inspiration to those who wish to develop more energy-efficient flying robots. The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative, could pave the way for new designs of drone, which will no longer be constrained by the fear of collision.

Andrew Maxwell

Andrew is a former journalist who now works as a freelance writer specializing in tech and gadgets. He currently resides in Thailand.

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