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Feb 02, 2017 11:19 AM EST

Bat Bots: The Future of Construction And Emergency Relief Efforts

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Move over Batman because there might be a new superhero with the development of the new bat bot created by a team of engineers from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois.

The Biology of the Bat Bot

The Bat Bot, dubbed as B2 by its creators, uses a morphing carbon-fiber skeleton, 3D-printed joints, and silicone-based membrane skin. These components make the B2 more sophisticated and powerful than the existing aerial robots.

Soon-Jo Chung, one of the engineers of the B2 and an assistant professor of aerospace at Caltech, said that their robot mimic the flight mechanisms of real bats. When asked why they chose bats instead of birds, he said that bats have the most sophisticated flight mechanism among other flying animals because their wings have the ability to change its shape.

This shape-changing capability owes itself from the 40 different types of joints that are interconnected with each other but can move independently from each other in multiple directions.

Collaborating with bat experts and Brown University professors, Sharon Swartz and Kenneth Breuer, Chung said they emulated that characteristic but instead of 40 joints, they equipped their bat bot with 9 joints where 5 are active and 4 are passive. Moreover, the flapping frequency of the B2 is much lower than that of the existing aerial robots. The bat bot has 7 - 10 Hz while the quadrotors have 100- 300 Hz. He also added that because of these characteristics, the bat bots can collide with each other or with another obstacle but will sustain only little or no damage at all.

Alireza Ramezani, the first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, said that their bat bot is one of the most advanced designs among aerial robots that can perform autonomous flight.

Possible Future Applications

Seth Hutchison, the co-author of the study and also from the University of Illinois, that one of the possible applications of the bat bot is to supervise construction sites. He said that the B2 can keep track of the construction and compare whether the building model is the same as the one that's being built.

Chung added that the B2 is more energy efficient because it can perch on different structures of the construction site rather than hover. And because it does not emit high-frequency noise, it is less intrusive as well.

Aside from construction, Hutchison also added that the bat bot can be used in emergency relief efforts as first responders. He used the Fukushima disaster as an example saying that armed with radiation detectors, 3D cameras, and heat sensors, it will be able to go where other robots cannot go. For example, it can scale walls and floors to locate survivors or deliver medicine.

The researchers said that there are still a lot of work to be done to the bat bot before it can ever be used commercially. However, they are hopeful that it won't be long enough before the dream becomes a reality.

Their work is published in the journal Science Robotics.

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