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New 'Bat Bot' Mimics Bats' Sophisticated Flight Mechanics

Feb 02, 2017 07:33 AM EST

This seems like something out of Bruce Wayne's arsenal: a compact drone that looks, glides and flies like an actual bat. In a study recently published in Science Robotics, three roboticists share details of their innovative "Bat Bot" that has the ability for autonomous flight.

The robotic drone, also called B2, only weighs 93 grams but is fully self-contained and autonomous, impressively mimicking the properties of bat wings. Its wingspan is 47 centimeters, similar to Egyptian fruit bats, according to a report from Live Science.

The team found and adopted the key components in the action of bat wings instead of recreating the creature's exact skeletal anatomy. Along with using thin elastic wings, this allowed them to make a more lightweight and flexible Bat Bot, instead of other bat-inspired drones that tend to be too bulky to fly smoothly.

"When a bat flaps its wings, it's like a rubber sheet -- it fills up with air and deforms," study co-author Seth Hutchinson explained. Hutchinson is also a robotics engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "[At the downward stroke], the flexible wing fills up with air, and at the bottom of the downstroke, it flexes back into place and expels the air, which generates extra lift. That gives us extra flight time."

The Bat Bot is able to flap its wings 10 times per second with micro-motors in its backbone. It could fly at an average of 5.6 meters per second as well as turn and dive at up to 14 meters per second.

"Bats have long captured the imaginations of scientists and engineers with their unrivaled agility and maneuvering characteristics, achieved by functionally versatile dynamic wing conformations as well as more than 40 active and passive joints on the wings," the researchers wrote in their paper.

The newly developed agile yet lightweight drone can be used in a variety of fields. Because of its soft body, it is much safer to use around humans than other drones available in the market. From homes to hospitals, it could be a useful tool without the danger that rotor blades of quadrotors pose. Other applications in construction and disaster zones are also envisioned for Bat Bot.

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