Remember the time when we said ‘the next time you spot a seagull, it could be a robot’? Also, remember the brilliant robotic kangaroo that moves like its biological counterpart? Those are just two examples of biomimicry and there are sure not the last of them. Speaking of which, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), in collaboration with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has developed a robot drone that mimics bat flight. The robot, dubbed Bat Bot B2 is part of a research project aim to investigate safer and more efficient flying robots and what’s better look to a complex and yet efficient flying creature like a bat as inspiration?
Weighing at a feather light 93 grams (3.28 ounces), Bat Bot B2 has a wingspan stretching around one-foot and like its nature’s counterpart, it is totally capable of altering its wing shape by flexing, extending, and twisting at its shoulders, elbows, wrists, and legs. And yes, it has those, just like the real thing. The researchers even take pain to custom an ultra-thin (56 microns), silicone-based membrane to mimic the bat’s thin but highly stretchable wings. The complexity to get this revolutionary flying robot off the ground is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Even more amazing, is its ability to amplify motion which enables it to be more energy efficient. Here’s how this amplification works:
“When a bat—or the Bat Bot—flaps its wings, the wing membranes fill up with air and deform. At the end of the wings’ downward flapping motion, the membranes snap back to their usual shape and blast out the air, creating a huge amplification in power for the flap.”
The implication is of this amplify motion is huge and it could potentially solve a nagging problem with limited battery life as it allows the Bat Bot to use significantly less juice, thereby boasting its range. Bat Bot B2 Advanced Robotic Bat may have taken off, but there’s still much to be studied as this particular example is not an exact replica of a real bat. Like the Salamander-like robot we saw last year, it is a simplified version of the biological mammal. The complexity is just way to immense, but it is a remarkable achievement, nonetheless.
So what can a robot like the Bat Bot B2 do? Well, like many such drones, its use is wide and varied, ranging from discreet surveillance to search and rescue operations, particularly in situations where spinning rotors pose a threat to people or objects. However, Caltech, whom posted the details on its website, did not mention the applications, but we all can guess that the military will be extremely keen on its development. You can catch Bat Bot B2 in action in the video below.
Image: screengrab from YouTube video.