Many of the extraordinary abilities of bats are being designed into a miniature flying robot that the U.S. Army hopes to use for spying on urban combat areas. The spy bat, packed with miniature electronics, would gather data from the sights, sounds and smells it encounters and relay the information back to a soldier in real time, says the University of Michigan News Service.
The university received a five-year, $10 million grant to establish a Center for Objective Microelectronics and Biomimetic Advanced Technology – COM-BAT for short – to develop electronics for the four-ounce roboplane they call “the Bat.” The News Service said COM-BAT engineers will work on the sensors, communication tools and batteries for the Bat. They’re planning on tiny cameras for stereo vision, mini-microphones to home in on sounds, and detectors for nuclear radiation and poisonous gases.
Low-power miniaturized radar and a super-sensitive navigation system would help the Bat to find its own way at night, just like the creatures it is modeled on. “Bats have a highly-attuned echolocation sense providing high-resolution navigation and sensing ability even in the dark, just as our sensor must be able to do,” said COM-BAT director Kamal Sarabandi. “We’re trying to push the edge of our technologies to achieve functionality that was not possible before.”
Echolocation, an exquisitely sensitive biological sonar system, allows the night-flying mammals to hunt and examine their environment by emitting beeping sounds and analyzing the echoes that bounce back from objects in their path.
The Bat should be able to handle short-term surveillance in support of advancing soldiers, the university said. Or it could perch unobtrusively on a street post or building and send continuing reports of activity as it takes place.
COM-BAT also includes the University of California at Berkeley and the University of New Mexico. The University of Michigan facility is one of four centers the Army launched in a collaborative effort of industry, academia and the Army Research Laboratory to develop this unprecedented robotic aircraft.
The News Service said each of the four centers is charged with developing a different subsystem of the bat, “a self-directed sensor inspired by the real thing.”