Scientists from the University of Illinois College of Engineering created an advanced robotic bat that simulates how the real-life animal can achieve flight. Thanks to the robot’s joints and sophisticated make, Bat Bot (B2) can reproduce the flight of a biological bat.

With a weight of only 93 grams, engineers behind Bat Bot were able to recreate the flying mammal’s morphology and reverse engineer its bodily structures that allow it to take flight.

Bat Bot (B2) can reproduce the flight of a biological bat. Image credit:  Ramezani, Chung, Hutchinson, Sci. Robot. 2, EAAL2505 (2017) / The Wall Street Journal
Bat Bot (B2) can reproduce the flight of a biological bat. Image credit: Ramezani, Chung, Hutchinson, Sci. Robot. 2, EAAL2505 (2017) / The Wall Street Journal

“Our work demonstrates one of the most advanced designs to date of a self-contained flapping-winged aerial robot with bat morphology that is able to perform autonomous flight,” stated first author Alireza Ramezani to EurekAlert.

Ramezani worked alongside Soon-Jo Chung from Caltech, Seth Hutchinson, and Sharon Swartz and Kenneth Breuer from Brown University.

A drone that behaves and flies like a bat

The team behind Bat Bot claims that they managed to reduce the 40 active and passive joints that real bats have, down to a total of 9. They also managed to make Bat Bot fly by flapping its wings at a 7 to 10 Hertz frequency, while also being safe due to the reduced chance of the wings colliding with nearby obstacles.

The wing membrane is made out of silicone, mimicking skin, allowing Bat Bot to move its articulations without compromising its structure. According to the team behind the project, the flight control results became the first demonstration of asymmetric wing folding to control the direction that the robot is facing. They stressed that this could not have been achieved with a material other than silicone, such as nylon, that is commonly used in research concerning flight using flapping wings.

Image credit: Ramezani, Chung, Hutchinson, SCI. Robot. 2, EAAL2505 (2017) / The Wall Street Journal

According to Hutchinson, when a bat flaps its wings they get filled with air, and then they get deformed. When the bat lowers its wings, it pushes the air outwards, creating forward momentum. This means that the ability to fly comes from the flexibility of the bat’s wings.

The team also suggested potential applications for Bat Bot, such as overseeing construction sites to ensure that the building is constructed according to plans. Bat Bot will also be made able to perch on beams and similar structures, expanding its range of applications.

“For example, for tasks that require the aerial robots to be stationary, our bat-inspired aerial robots will eventually be able to perch, instead of hovering, by taking advantage of unique structures in construction sites such as steel frames, side walls, and ceiling frames,” stated Chung.

Chung assures that perching is an energy-efficient way to have wider functions, seeing that stationary hovering is difficult for robots whenever there is wind. This would be a typical scenario for construction sites, seeing that Bat Bot would have to go up several stories high to be efficient. Also, perching or landing traditional aircraft in places where a bat could perch is very difficult, mainly because flight speed has to be precise for efficiently completing the maneuver.

The robot could also be equipped with a 3D camera, temperature and radiator sensors to oversee nuclear reactors wherever radiation is too high for human personnel to approach safely.

Source: EurekAlert!