A new flying robot is able to move and fly in the exact same way that a bat does, according to a new study outlined in the journal Science Robotics.
The machine — developed by researchers at the University of Illinois College of Engineering — has a pair of flexible wings covered in a thin, silicone skin that allows them to move like a bat’s. Known as “Bat Bot,” the device also comes equipped with nine artificial joints that help it recreate life-like mechanics as it speeds through the air.
Bats have a very impressive set of flight skills. Not only can they travel quickly, but they can also both maneuver and perch in unique ways. As a result, recreating that type of flying movement has long been a goal for the team in the study.
“Our work introduces a design scheme to mimic the key flight mechanisms of biological bats,” explained study co-author Soon-Jo Chung, a former researcher at the University of Illinois who now works at Caltech, in a statement. “There is no well-established methodology for reverse engineering the sophisticated locomotion of bats.”
Unlike most robotic flying devices, Bat Bot mimics a real species: the Egyptian fruit bat. In this way, it can fly almost 100 feet in a straight line, is capable of propulsion, and can flap its wings to generate lift. In addition, the small machine only weighs a quarter of a pound and has a wingspan of just a foot and a half.
Those properties are important because they give the robot some distinct advantages over traditional drones. For example, it is much safer to use because it does not have spinning props. It can also maneuver in tight spaces where clunkier robots would not be able to fit, and its flexible wings are much more energy-efficient than current models. There is even a chance it could be used to monitor workspaces — such as construction sites — by perching high on a structure in the area.
Though the device does not perfectly copy bat movement, the team hopes that it will lay a new foundation for the future of flying machines. Current drones are reliable, but they are also bulky. The new robots may open the door to slimmer, more flexible designs that travel in ways current builds cannot.
“[W]e want to learn from nature how to build safer, more maneuverable, and energy-efficient micro air vehicles or aerial drones…We want to decipher functional mechanisms of animal flyers so that we can build better airplanes.” Chung told Fox News.