The animal kingdom is full of inspiration for robotics – just ask the creators of SALTO, Robirds, MuddyBot, WildCat, Octobot, or EPFL’s robo-croc. Now, engineers at Caltech and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have developed the Bat Bot, a robotic bat with soft, flappable wings that could not only make for a safer alternative to keeping drones aloft with spinning blades, but also teach scientists more about the mechanics at work in natural bat flight.
It’s hard to tell from fleeting overhead silhouette in the dark, but bats make use of a complex musculoskeletal system to perform the aerial acrobatics they’re capable of. By twisting the joints at its shoulders, elbows, wrists and legs, a bat can change the shape of its flexible wings to move in over 40 rotational directions, enabling it to make swift turns and dives.
Weighing just 93 g (3.3 oz) and sporting a wingspan of about 0.3 m (1 ft), the Bat Bot mimics the flight mechanisms of its natural counterpart, driven by a small onboard computer and a series of sensors that allow it to fly autonomously.