'Bat Bot' Can Pull Off Impressive Aerial Acrobatics
Whether they're swooping around to catch dinner or delicately hanging upside down to sleep, bats are known for their acrobatic prowess. Now, scientists have created a robot inspired by these flying creatures. Dubbed the "Bat Bot," it can fly, turn and swoop like its real-life counterpart in the animal kingdom.
Since at least the time of Leonardo da Vinci, scientists have sought to mimic the acrobatic way in which bats maneuver the sky. Someday, robotic bats could help deliver packages or inspect areas ranging from disaster zones to construction sites, the researchers said.
"Bat flight is the Holy Grail of aerial robotics," said study co-author Soon-Jo Chung, a robotics engineer at the California Institute of Technology and a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena.
Learning from animals
Bats may possess the most sophisticated wings in the animal kingdom, with more than 40 joints in their wings that enable unparalleled agility during flight, likely so that they can pursue equally nimble insect prey, the researchers said.
Previous work has developed a variety of flying robots biologically inspired by insects and birds. However, attempts to build robots that mimic bats have been met with limited success because of the complexities of bats' wings, such as their multitude of joints, the researchers said.
Meet the Bat Bot
The Bat Bot's wings are made of bones of carbon fiber and ball-and-socket joints composed of 3D-printed plastic, all covered with a soft, durable, ultrathin, silicone-based skin only 56 microns thick. (For comparison, the average human hair is about 100 microns thick.)
The robot flapped its wings up to 10 times per second using micro-motors in its backbone. The Bat Bot weighed only about 3.3 ounces (93 grams) and had a wingspan of about 18.5 inches (47 centimeters) — measurements similar to those of Egyptian fruit bats, Chung said.
In experiments, the Bat Bot could fly at speeds averaging 18.37 feet per second (5.6 meters per second). It could also carry out sharp turns and straight dives, reaching speeds of 45.9 feet per second (14 m/s) while swooping down.
The researchers said their robot's softness and light weight make it safer for use around humans than, for example, the quadrotor drones that are popular commercially. For instance, the Bat Bot would cause little or no damage if it were to crash into humans or other obstacles in its environment, they said. In contrast, quadrotors spin their rotor blades at high speeds of up to 18,000 revolutions per minute, which could result in dangerous interactions, Chung said.
"The high-speed rotor blades of quadrotors and other craft are inherently unsafe for humans," Chung said. "Our Bat Bot is considerably more safe."