We've had robots inspired by cheetahs, sand fleas, geckos and birds. Now engineers at Brown University have built a robot inspired by the bat.
It doesn't fly on its own yet – the robo-bat is still attached to a kind of arm in a wind tunnel. It does, however, mimic the wing shape and motion of the lesser dog-faced fruit bat. The robot itself is linked to a device called a force transducer, which records the amount of energy needed to move the wings and the aerodynamic forces on their structure.
Besides understanding how bats fly, data collected from experiments with the robo-bat could tell engineers how to design small robots that flap a pair of wings instead of fly with propellers or rotors.
Robots Mimic Disappearing Cockroaches
The robot, about eight inches long, has bones of plastic, made on a 3-D printer, that are the same proportions as those in real bats. The skin is made of silicone. The joints are bent by tiny motors that pull on cables, which function similarly to tendons.
Scientists and engineers study bird and bat flight because it is actually a pretty complicated process. While flapping wings provide lift, they also push the animal down as they move up. They also don't move in a simple up-and-down motion, since they have to provide thrust as well. Preliminary results from the robo-bat show that the folding of wings on the upstroke reduces the force of air pushing downwards by 50 percent.