Bat Biology Used as Model for Robotic Flight


Drone, and small-form robotic flight has been an extremely forward, and fast paced field of technology research. Now, scientists at Virginia Tech, who issued a press release, are using the biology of bats as the model for miniaturized flying robots. Professor Danesh Tafti, added that the wing is altering shape continuously during flight, giving them astounding efficiency in flight made researchers ask if it was possible to create an autonomous flying vehicle?.

A mammal’s relatively large wingspan in regards to its size (about 18cm to about an ounce), allows it to fly through the air incredibly effectively. Over 1, 000 species of bats have hand membrane wings, a flexible membrane between their wings, and were the target group for this study published in the Physics of Fluid journal. A bat’s flexible membranes, increased in size dramatically, which allows the bat to maximize their speed, and force during flight. At the same time, they are able to decrease its size, reducing air resistance as much as possible. Even though these are just two factors in the mechanics of flight, in this case they represent a valuable relationship of information.

The manner in which the bat is able to propel itself, in part deals with how it’s able to manipulate the surrounding air. Professor Danesh Tafti, a Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineer, noted that he was interested in the high degree of maneuverability the winged mammal showed for capturing prey.

Their astounding efficiency in flight, and the information recovered scientifically allowed the researchers to better understand the bat’s biological intricacies, and how it could be used in robotics. It is an interesting suggestion that the form, and shape the aircraft takes could be used as a dynamic attribute, that would allow for greater understanding of how things move through space, and specifically through the air, with the most ease.

However, the number, and complexity of the mathematical factors involved with producing an experiment in this instance, is not easy. Turbulence, and aerodynamics are notoriously difficult to predict mathematically, due to how many variables are included in mapping the phenomenon. Using flight analysis software that analyzed the experimental data, the research team was able investigate the relationship between  motion and airflow. Using their findings, they created a real-time computer model of this relationship.

Kamal Viswanath, a co-author in the study, said that they were able to establish that the measured value for coefficient of force was so great, that it surpassed modern aircraft. To further the comparison, think of the difference between using  standard propulsion and control in an aircraft, and using the inherent qualities of the structure of the aircraft. The latter is much more effective in maximizing the dexterity and agility of the vehicle.

With such a large potential, it is hopeful that robotic flight, or drone like vehicles could be modeled from the nature, and biology of these bats. As more time goes on, it is likely we will see a great number of technological advances regarding our understanding of moving through our planet, and how we solve those problems.

By Maxwell Schoenbaum