Bat Bot Offers Maneuverability for Drone Delivery, Inspection

In the News
February 01, 2017

If you’re all droned out and think you’ve seen just about every robot in the skies, look again.

Scientists have built Bat Bot, a robot bat that can fly around autonomously while beating its skin-like wings.

Bats are renowned for their aerial acrobatics, taking advantage of over 40 wing joints for maneuverability.

Aside from shedding light on the mechanics of bat flight, Bat Bot is an attempt to reproduce those aerial skills so that next-generation flying robots can be more maneuverable when used in everything from rescue operations and infrastructure monitoring to construction site surveys.

Business Takeaways:

  • Robots that mimic bat flight are desirable because of their energy efficiency and safety. Researchers at the University of Illinois-Champaign have made progress with light wing articulation.
  • Bat Bot is a prototype of a non-fixed-wing winged drone that could be useful for precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection, surveillance, and emergency response.
  • The global market for unmanned aerial vehicles is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 19.99 percent to $21.23 billion by 2022, according to Markets and Markets, and at 16.9 percent, according to Grand View Research.

Bat Bot, also known as B2 or RoboBat, recreates the most important wing joints in bats to achieve six degrees of freedom for flight motions. It’s launched by hand, and it can fly straight for up to 30 meters, turn, and dive sharply like a real bat chasing prey.

The biomimetic robot is about as big as an Egyptian fruit bat. It has an onboard computer, sensors such as an inertial measurement unit, and magnetic encoders on its elbows, hip joints, and shoulder joints.

The machine is powered by a battery-driven motor and micro-actuators but weighs only 93 grams. That’s due in large part to its lightweight wings. Made from a single, silicon-based flexible membrane, the wings measure 47 cm across and are only 56 microns thick.

If flying robots feature such soft materials, they would be safer than drones for nearby humans, the scientists argued in a study about Bat Bot that was published in Science Robotics.

Bat Bot is the ‘holy grail’ of drones

“Bat flight is the holy grail of aerial robotics,” co-author Soon-Jo Chung, an associate professor of aerospace at Caltech, said in a recent conference call with reporters. “We have challenged ourselves to reverse-engineer bats’ unrivaled agility with an aim to build a safe, energy efficient, soft-winged robot that can fly like a bat. I also wanted to challenge the status quo of drones that predominately use high-speed rotor blades, which are quite noisy and dangerous.”

The market for fixed-wing drones has been overshadowed by...

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